Monday, July 7, 2014

Reading in the Wild- Aha's Abound!

I went to a PD session last week and the presenter asked us to come with our "Aha's" and "Amens" about the book we would be discussing. I loved that phrasing! When I read "professional" books, that pretty much sums up my reactions- I either have an Aha! moment of new learning or a realization or I'm affirmed in what I already thought and want to say a big Amen!

So when my new teammate and friend, Lillian, surprised me with my very own copy of Donalyn Miller's new book, Reading in the Wild, I was ecstatic! Not only because she thought of me and I had my very own copy of the book and someone to share my reading obsession with, but I also had a new book to read and document my Aha's and Amens!

So this past week while vacationing in South Padre, this was my view as I read through the book. Nothing like reading in the semi-actual wild!

I read and absolutely loved Donalyn's first book, The Book Whisperer (you can read about that here) so I knew I would love this one as well. I love her ability to be frank and honest about what hasn't worked in her literacy instruction as well as offer practical solutions and strategies to try. The fact that she's from Texas doesn't hurt either! Today I want to share just a few of the major Aha! moments I had during my reading.

Before I get into those, I want to share with you the definition Donalyn has for being a "wild reader." In her words, wild readers are "readers who incorporate reading into their personal lives along with everything else that interests them." My goal is to develop myself and my students into wild readers.

Research shows that children who read the most will outperform those who don't read much. Wild readers don't read because someone told them to or to answer questions on a quiz, they read because they truly enjoy it and benefit from the experience reading offers. If that is the goal, how do I get there? Donalyn and her colleague, Susan Kelly, polled adult wild readers to gain insight into their reading behaviors. Those findings provided the structure of the book. Now, with their help, we can identify those behaviors and help design our instruction to foster the development of these habits.

In my Aha's, I'm only sharing the things that spoke the most to me as a fellow reading teacher. Although the book is overflowing with great quotes, fabulous ideas, and useful tools, my Aha's are just that- mine. They may seem trivial or obvious, but they resinated with me long after my eyes left the page. My hope is that maybe some of my Aha's will resinate with you, too.

This one hit me right in the gut. I love to read. I have read lots of books over the last few years. I read stacks of books over the summer. I call myself a reader. But can I call myself a wild reader?  What happens when school starts? The same chapter book will sit on my nightstand unfinished for several days... weeks... ok, ok, months! My primary goal is to instill a love of reading that will last a lifetime, not just for the short amount of time my students are in my classroom. Along with that comes teaching and developing the habits of wild reading. If I am not a true wild reader and "cannot" find the time or energy to read during the school year, is it fair to expect that from my students? Of course not! I am the reading mentor. I have to start walking the walk.

In the book Donalyn cites study after study that prove the positive effects of having a teacher who reads. I know the feeling that I get when I read steadily- my imagination is piqued, my vocabulary is expanded, my knowledge base grows, I feel less-stressed. Why would I give this up during the year? Yes, I'm tired, have long days, the list of excuses goes on. But as Donalyn stresses in the book: wild readers make time to read. If I'm going to serve as the lead reader for my students, reading must become a priority. I have to make time to read. No more excuses.

Connecting right back to what I mentioned in my first Aha!, if I am the lead wild reader, I must also model and teach behaviors that support being a wild reader. I love that Donalyn calls the time in between the main events in our life "edge time." She heads this section of the book "Reading on the Edge." What a great way to think about it! And how true! I hate when I find myself sitting somewhere with nothing to do- getting my oil changed, waiting at the doctor's office- all of those precious moments that could be spent lost in a great book just simply wasted. I'm fairly good about remembering to bring a book along with me when I know I'll be sitting somewhere for a long period of time, but I need to be better about keeping books with me in the car and even in my purse. I never know when those unexpected delays will pop up.

The biggest moment of clarity came when Donalyn discusses how wild reading consists of behaviors and habits that require teaching and discussion. Kids can be taught how to take advantage of this "edge time" in their own lives. I had a student last year who had mastered the art of reading on the edge. I practically had to pull her nose out of a book so she would avoid walking in to a wall! But most of my students did not have this skill and it never crossed my mind to bring it up.

Donalyn shares a story about a student stating that he just didn't have enough time to read because of his sports practices and other responsibilities. When Donalyn asked if he could read for a few minutes in the car and then read a few minutes before bed his reply was, "You would let me do that? Reading a little bit here and there counts?" Reading that pained me. How many of my students felt that way about the reading time- all or nothing? I never imagined that they would think of reading as a time distinctly set away from the rest of their day. If I thought that reading time only counted when I was alone in the house and in my favorite recliner, I would never be able to fulfill a twenty minute a night requirement! I never discussed with my students that wild readers read at all different times during the day, in all kinds of places, for different amounts of time. Reading on the edge will become one of the many topics for discussion within the first few weeks of school from now on!

So...ask me how many Goosebumps books I've read... go ahead... I'm sure those of you who know me well will already know the answer... NONE! Pitiful. I have a bin overflowing with Goosebumps books, kids who read the entire series and beg for more year after year, and yet I couldn't tell you a single thing about them. Why don't I read them? I'm a scaredy-cat! Plain and simple. I go out of my way to avoid anything remotely sinister and that just so happens to include the bin of R.L. Stine's beloved books. This is a shortcoming I have shared with my students in the past. Reflecting back on that now, I want to shake myself. What kind of example was I setting for my students? The same students who I pass book after book to with the (what I thought of as) encouraging message to "Just try it! You never know, you may end up liking it!" are watching me purposefully discard a reading experience that could be quite exciting. 

I have my go-to genres and my not-so-favorite ones.  But if I have the mindset that I want to be a true reading mentor, a lead reader for my students, I simply cannot be that mentor if the only knowledge I have of the books they may potentially read comes from the front cover and blurb. As Donalyn says, "We must push ourselves to read widely in order to best serve our students- as role models who read for diverse purposes and reading advisors who know a lot about books that appeal to all types of readers." If this was a test, I would have failed miserably. 

I'm setting a personal goal for myself this summer. I'm going to read books from the genres I typically avoid- graphic novels, fantasy, and yes, even horror. I may be sleeping with the light on some nights or pep-talking myself to finish some of the books, but I will at least be able to engage in authentic conversations with my students who love them. I want my students to see me as a true member of their reading community instead of an outsider who offers inauthentic recommendations. 

I love talking about books with others. I love the conversations that ensue. I love hearing what another person took away from a book especially when they bring up a point I hadn't considered. There's a certain joy that comes with sharing the reading experience with someone else that fuels my desire to read even more so I can discuss even more! I read books based on recommendations from others and love seeing what my friends are reading. There's nothing quite like sipping on a hot cup of coffee and chatting about a book with a dear friend. That social factor of reading is a huge one for me. If I didn't have a circle of people around me to share and enjoy books with, reading would not be the same. 

So what am I doing in my classroom to set students up to experience this same joy of sharing books with others? Besides the standard book club meetings and book talk sessions, how am I exposing students to the rich benefits of being a member of a reading society? Donalyn states, "We are all social beings who seek affiliation with others who share common values and interests. Readers need other readers." I want to be around people who enjoy reading. I want my students to be surrounded by other readers so they are immersed in a culture of reading and are inspired to continue reading regardless of where they are on their "journey to become a wild reader."

Wild readers do not only read books for a book club nor do they write a review of every book that they read. I do not want my students to see reading as a chore or as an activity necessary to satisfy another requirement like a book report or quiz. So how do I promote wide reading? Donalyn discusses ways to use "epicenter readers," those students who are experts in a particular genre or author, as mentors for other students. She provides ideas like decorating a reading door, setting up a wall for "reading graffiti," and reading community-building read-alouds to help foster a community of readers. I'm going to critically examine how I structure my classroom and incorporate a variety of ways for students to share books with each other and help create a comfortable reading home for all types of readers.

This is the culminating idea. What do I do in my classroom day in and day out that fosters my students' growth as wild readers? Do my current practices align with what wild readers do? If not, what needs to be changed or removed? Do my instructional practices help develop the habits that transform my students into wild readers? This is going to require some critical thinking, but it must be done.

 I'm going to reexamine every aspect of my classroom from entry procedures, lesson design and each moment of edge time in between. I'm not going to do this part alone, however. Another great perk of being a teacher is that I'm surrounded my amazing people who have wonderful ideas and who push me to reflect and improve. I can't wait to sit around and chat (with a hot cup of coffee, of course!) with my colleagues about how I can improve my instruction to support the goal of developing every student into a wild reader.

So now I forge ahead- rethinking my instruction with wild readers in mind while I work on developing those wild reading habits myself. As I type the Goosebumps books beckon....

If you have any ideas for how to cultivate wild readers or any other comments about Donalyn's book, I would love to hear!


  1. I absolutely loved reading this post, Kelly! It made me do a lot of thinking and reflecting on my own reading habits and how to cultivate a classroom of wild readers. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Kelly, your post is marvelous! I LOVE your aha's! So insightful! Every one of them is making me think hard. Thanks!


Thank you for taking time to comment! I appreciate it!