Education Opinion

Best Book Awards for Teaching to the Test

By Donalyn Miller — January 30, 2010 3 min read
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Dear Author,

Congratulations on winning the (insert name of major literary book award here). It must be gratifying to receive recognition for your work and its outstanding literary merit. I know--because my state standards tell me so--that authors write for many purposes: to inform us about the world, to express your emotions and opinions, to provide entertainment, to persuade us to act or believe a certain way, or to reflect on your life and your impressions of it. I am sure that your book conveys one of these purposes, but when you consider writing your next book, I think you should include increasing students’ standardized test performance on your list of goals. Don’t children’s and young adult authors know that this is the main purpose for using their books in our classrooms? It might be award season for authors, but it is test-prep season for my students and me. You could help me out by producing a book that helps teach my students skills they will need for tests. This is why reading and writing really matter these days.

The truth of it is-- I can no longer share a book in my classroom just because it is worthy. No one cares much about illuminating students or revealing the enduring strength of the human spirit through literature. Who has time for that? I don’t think you could test these outcomes, anyway.

You may consider yourself an artist, and that is noble I suppose. After all, the world needs artists in theory--I am sure many of my students are learning to become great artists in their music, drama, and art classes. This is wonderful as long as the fine arts teachers continue to support my curriculum by aligning everything they teach with core-content standards.

I am planning an award list of my own that I think many teachers will find valuable. As you write your next book, you should keep these awards in mind.

Best Book Awards for Teaching to the Test

The Roots and Stems Award: Throw away your dictionary and consider using the SAT vocabulary lists as your guide. The more obscure words you use in your book, the better. After all, words like “iconoclast” and “venerable” are hard to find in context at school.

The Venn Award: Can students compare and contrast the characters in your book using a graphic organizer? Will your plot fit nicely on a pyramid? If my students can record everything they need to remember about your book onto one worksheet, you are a frontrunner for this award.

The Field Trip Award: Can I use your book to show my students what a zoo, museum, or concert hall really looks like? How about recess? With budget cuts and a focus on standards-based curriculum, the only way my students might have these experiences is if you write about them.

The Marginalia Award: If my students can write reams of annotation while reading your book, this is the award for you. Talk to your publisher and ask them to widen the margins. Two inches--the width of a small Post-It note-- would be best.

The Diorama Award: Open House is just around the corner, and I need something to hang on the walls. Besides, knowing that a project is due is the only thing that motivates my students to read. Does your book lend itself to a wanted poster, cereal box, or paper bag report? If I can integrate technology by assigning a power point project, I will use your book every year. Since all we do in class is drill on test-taking skills, students will have to complete this project at home. Consider including instructions for parents.

If you apply yourself, I am sure your next book could win one of these awards! Until then, I will just have to wait for the pre-packaged novel unit of your recent award-winning book to arrive, so that I can find some academic reason to teach it. That award seal may keep your book in print forever, but if I can use it to teach my students how to find the main idea--it will be a classic for the ages!


Donalyn Miller

The opinions expressed in The Book Whisperer are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.