Jeffrey D. Wilhelm’s “You Gotta BE the Book”

Students enrolled in the spring 2011 section of READ 6323 worked together in small groups to read and discuss a professional book related to struggling readers. As part of their project, they wrote a post for our blog.

Reviewed by: Mandy, Zaida, and Anita

Jeffrey Wilhelm’s “You Gotta BE the Book” is a beneficial and insightful resource for teachers.  The book highlights significant instructional strategies Wilhelm created and implemented in hopes to help his struggling and reluctant readers become lifelong readers inside and outside of school.  As a teacher, Wilhelm observed many of his students were hesitant to read or could not comprehend and connect with the text. Therefore, these instructional strategies designed were applied to assist the reader to visualize, connect, and respond to the text.  Wilhelm states “about 10 different dimensions of response that my students seemed to use as they created, experienced, and responded to literary worlds” (p. 67).  He called these the ‘dimensions of the reader’s response’.

Wilhelm categorized the dimensions into three groups identified as evocative, connective, and reflective.  Each dimension is centered on specific roles a reader may experience while reading a text.

Evocative Dimensions

1. Entering the Story World.  The reader stimulates their prior knowledge.

2. Showing Interest in the Story.  The reader understands, makes predictions, and forms expectations about the plot of the story.

3. Relating to Characters.  The reader becomes a presence in the story and makes opinions of characters.

4. Seeing the Story World.  The reader constructs mental images of characters, settings, and situations of the story.

Connective Dimensions

5. Elaborating on the Story World.  The reader’s role is as detective in which they generate meaning that goes beyond the surface of the text.

6. Connecting Literature to Life.  The reader makes specific connections from their personal experience and character experience.

Reflective Dimensions

7. Considering Significance.  The reader questions which character(s) and event(s) contributed to the importance of the text.

8. Recognizing Literary Conventions.  The reader detects conventional moves made by the author and has to use their schema to establish meaning.

9. Recognizing Reading as a Transaction.  The reader acknowledges that the meaning lies within the author, the text, and the reader themselves.

10. Evaluating an Author and the Self as Reader.  The reader assesses the author as an efficient writer as well as their own reading process and how it affects them as a reader.

The dimensions reveal that there are diverse reasons and approaches of reading.  These methods of reading may not have the same effect on each reader; nevertheless, each dimension can still satisfy the reader’s purpose.

In addition, Wilhelm suggests several meaningful instructional strategies – symbolic story representation, drama, and art – that illuminate the dimensions of reader’s response. Wilhelm used these techniques in place of the traditional paper and pencil activities.  These methods had positive effects on the students’ engagement in reading and learning.

The symbolic story representation (SRI) allows students to create cutouts to sensationalize what they have read and how they have read it.  The cutouts could represent characters, setting, plot, or themes of a text read.  After cutouts are designed, the student shares and explains the cutouts to the class. “SRI is appealing because it captures and encourages the creative and dramatic elements of reading” (p. 66).

Drama is another instructional strategy implemented by Wilhelm in his classroom.  He discloses several activities, based on drama, to articulate, investigate, and expand the text of a story.  “Drama also works because it personally connects life to the material under consideration” (p. 151).

 Wilhelm discovered that some of his students lacked the visualization needed to comprehend and connect with the text.  Therefore, he considered art as a way to construct and maintain the image-making of the text.   He shares different activities that will help students express their meaning of the text in a visual and creative form. Artistic response “encourages very different readers to respond in natural ways, to share that response with each other, and to extend and develop it in unforeseen, socially supported, and personally validating and exciting ways” (p. 180). 

This wonderfully written book incorporates true accounts of struggling and reluctant readers sharing theirs doubts and aggravations with reading as well as their positive attitudes that were changed due to the strategies and encouragement of their teacher, Jeffrey Wilhelm.  Wilhelm recounts his personal frustrations and triumphs he encountered with these particular students as well.  We highly recommend this book for teachers searching for meaningful strategies that will encourage students to understand, relate, and respond to literature.

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