I finished Reading in the Wild this weekend. This is definitely a book that I think all teachers should read, though I think that teachers who have been using reading workshop in their classrooms for at least a couple of years will probably find it most valuable. It’s only after you’ve been using the workshop approach for a few years that you are able to see what isn’t transferring. I had no trouble (after the first year or so) getting students to read in my class, but they didn’t necessarily continue reading after the school year ended. For many of my students, reading workshop was a one-year intervention that did make a difference but only for that one year. Not what I was hoping for. Miller’s book has so many ideas for ways teachers can improve their workshop practices to cultivate reading habits that will last longer than the school year.
This book and Donalyn’s sessions at NCTE have encouraged me to rethink my Children’s Literature and Adolescent Literature courses and try to reinvent them as reading communities. Many of my students in Children’s Literature are not yet readers, and I have only four months to fix that. So my final post about Reading in the Wild is going to focus on some of the key ideas from the final two chapters that I will be incorporating into my classes next semester.
First, I need to create more opportunities for students to share what they’re reading.
If we know the other reader well, we wild readers suggest books that connect to that person’s interests and experiences. When providing recommendations to someone we don’t know well, we rely more on literary merit and professional criticism because it lends credibility to our suggestions. This process of reflection, selection, and suggestion defines authentic reading response in its truest sense. Listening to their book recommendations, we learn a lot about other readers even if we never read their suggested books. Reflecting on our book recommendations, we can discover a lot about ourselves and what we value about books. After all, most wild readers don’t compose critical reviews or post to a blog. We certainly don’t build dioramas or write diary entries from a character’s point of view. When we finish a book, we consider our personal reactions to it, and if we appreciate it, we share the book.
However, those opportunities to share their reading need to be invitations, not requirements. Kellee Moye‘s session at the Nerdy Book Club Round-table helped me diagnose what had gone so very wrong in my Children’s Lit course last spring when I required two book commercials from each student. These were, for the most part, incredibly boring and uninspired talks that did nothing to promote the book or inspire enthusiasm for reading. When I scheduled an entire class period of these talks (as I did several times throughout the semester), their tedium brought any love of reading to a halt. Even when students were enthusiastic about their book, they didn’t manifest much enthusiasm in their talk. This semester, I’m going to try a much more low-key approach: when we have a spare few minutes of class time, ask if anybody has read anything great this week that they think others in class should read.
I also typically require students to respond to their reading in certain ways. For instance, last spring in Children’s Literature and Adolescent Literature, I required students to review books on their own blogs and to use Twitter. Most students did not use these platforms in ways that were personally meaningful or valuable to themselves. Mostly, they blogged and tweeted to fulfill an assignment. It became busy work for them. Not a single one of them kept up with their blogs after the semester ended. I had good reasons for requiring blogs and Twitter: I want my students to develop a learning network they can access and engage with long after my class ends. But these platforms didn’t help my students build a PLN.
Following Donalyn’s advice, I’ve stepped back to reflect on my goal with this assignment. I want students to develop reading communities for themselves that aren’t dependent on me or my classroom. But that may be outside the scope of interest for some students. And for the students who are interested in building a reading community outside of class, there are many ways they can do that besides blogging and tweeting. I am going to invite them to find their own path. Blogging and Twitter will be two options I share with them, but I want to see what happens when I issue invitations rather than requirements.
I will also try to identify my “epicenter readers,” a wonderful concept from Reading in the Wild. These are the “powerful reading peers” who already read voraciously. Donalyn suggests some techniques to “expand their influence” and make their reading experience, knowledge, and enthusiasm more available to the whole class.
I will read aloud more. My goal is to read poems and picture books to open and close class, and also to share a selection that addresses genre avoidance–probably nonfiction. I am excited to read aloud from some of my favorite children’s biographies, autobiographies, and informational texts. Poetry and nonfiction are my students’ two most-avoided genres in both Children’s Lit and Adolescent Lit, so most of my read-alouds will probably be poetry and nonfiction.
I want to make our reading lives more public, part of a larger community. I am going to create a reading display on my office door. I am going to ask for space in one of the hallways for students to post reading resolutions. I am going to invite other readers across campus to visit our classroom and share their reading lives. I am going to try to Skype with some other classes and some authors and illustrators.
Students will set their own reading challenges. In the past, I have designed reading challenges that all students must adhere to. I use contract grading in these two courses, so students do have a choice in what kind of challenge they undertake. But why not give students full freedom to determine their own reading challenges? Students may not read as much as I want them to or believe they could read, but there will be other benefits to placing students in control of their own challenge.
When working with students, we must provide opportunities for them to reflect on their reading experiences, identify personal reading goals, and implement plans for achieving those goals. School-based reading measures often impose external reading goals on students. . . How do students develop ownership for reading when they are never given ownership? Who are students reading for?. . . Students must learn how to make their own reading plans, reflect on their individual accomplishments, and find personal reasons for reading or they will never become wild readers.
At the end of the semester, we will make reading plans for the rest of the year. At NCTE, I was reminded of Penny Kittle’s important observation: “The difference between readers and non-readers is that readers have plans.” I need to make sure students are leaving my class with a plan.
I need to think about how to use conferences in my classes. I have moved away from conferencing in the last year or so–mostly because of time constraints. I was never great at conferencing regularly as a high school teacher either, but in the college classroom, where I see my students only once or twice a week, I don’t know how to manage class time to incorporate conferencing. Scheduling individual conferences with 50 or more students outside of class is unreasonable. But if this is something I want my students to do in their own classrooms, I need to provide a model.
What I want to do in Children’s Lit and Adolescent Lit is focus.
We will read. We will reflect on our reading and ourselves as readers. We will share our reading.