Wild Readers in a College Children’s Literature Course: Part 2 #cyberPD

reading in the wild

Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild is the title chosen for this year’s #cyberPD event. This week, Ruminate & Invigorate hosts a discussion of Chapters 3 and 4. Reading in the Wild is one of my favorite books about teaching, and in my post this week, I will focus on how I applied the ideas in Chapters 3 and 4 to a college-level Children’s Literature course for pre-service elementary teachers. (I have already written about Chapters 3 and 4 here as well.)

“Wild Readers Share Books and Reading with Other Readers”

As I was rereading this chapter this morning, I wondered if reading community is actually the most important factor in the creation, care, and maintenance of wild readers. It seems like it wouldn’t be. It seems like the most important thing would be fostering an individual’s love of reading. But I realized that so many of the wild reading behaviors Donalyn describes in the other chapters are learned, modeled, practiced, shared, and reinforced through reading communities. My students tend to read wildly during my class–and then stop. And now I wonder if that’s because they lose their reading community once they are no longer in my class.

This makes me wonder what more I can do to build reading communities that are bigger than my classroom, that can sustain my students’ reading lives after they earn their three credits from me.

“Becoming the lead reader” in our classrooms means that we need to examine our reading behaviors to determine what moves we make so that we can develop curriculum that will make those moves explicit to our students. As every workshop teacher knows, that’s actually a lot more challenging than it looks. Not only can it be very hard to identify and articulate habits so ingrained they are practically second-nature, it can also be hard to know what needs to be made explicit for our students.

For instance, students shared with me again and again that their biggest challenge was finding good books to read. When I asked more questions to figure out what was doing on, I discovered that many students hadn’t yet internalized an incredibly basic readerly habit: when you read a book that you like, check out something else by the same author. This is a readerly move that seemed too obvious to me to be worth mentioning, but for many students, it wasn’t obvious at all.

Part of being the “lead reader” also means leveraging the power of the community and helping students learn from each other’s reading experiences and readerly moves. We need opportunities to learn from other readers, and although this ought to be so easy on a college campus, it’s not. Who talks to college students about books? Professors tell them what to read and they talk about the required reading, but how often do professors talk about their personal reading lives? Almost never.

I know that our classroom reading community only lasts as long as the class, so I try to build possible reading communities that can outlast the class in other ways, mostly through social media. My students blog, tweet, and keep track of their course reading on Good Reads. I introduce them to some of the “epicenter readers” who are important in my reading life and encourage them to find their own. I had high hopes for connecting my students with other teachers, librarians, and readers online–and also for continuing to connect and learn with them myself through social media. But I’ve found that many of my students aren’t yet ready to live professional lives online. They’re happy enough to use social media for professional purposes during the class, but almost all of them drop all professional use of it after the class.

So what is to be done? If my students are more comfortable with face-to-face reading communities, how can they find and develop those outside of my classroom so that their reading lives will be supported after the class ends? (We live in a very rural area, which makes this even more challenging.) And if it’s not feasible to build those kinds of communities outside of class, how can I help my students embrace social media as a tool for learning and connecting professionally?

“Wild Readers Have Reading Plans”

The only thing I like almost as much as reading is creating new reading plans for myself. I set “commitment plans” for myself–mostly focused on increasing book completion but sometimes focused on exploring a new genre. And I definitely set “challenge plans” for myself. Commitment and challenge plans are helpful concepts for my students as they think about their reading goals for the semester.

One thing I learned last semester is that it’s actually quite difficult to have a reading plan before you know who you are as a reader.  I asked students to set reading goals for themselves fairly early in the semester, and that wasn’t very effective. Students didn’t know enough about themselves as readers to know what kinds of commitments and challenges would be appropriate or engaging for them. I need to give students more time at the beginning of the semester to discover themselves as readers and explore different genres, awards, and books before they commit to reading challenges.


17 responses to “Wild Readers in a College Children’s Literature Course: Part 2 #cyberPD”

  1. I’ve re-read your post, trying to see through the lens of a college pre-service student, Elisabeth. It seems that they do what they’re assigned (you’ve written about this before), but they aren’t taking opportunities for themselves. They haven’t yet learned that learning is so personal, not just doing what the professor/teacher says. It sounds like some habits that need to be broken. Hm, & how to change that? Are they so beset with other assignments, too, that they have no time? Even college students might have too much to do even if they’d love to read more YA or children’s lit, they may not find time. I don’t know where your students are in their college years. If they’re headed for student teaching, perhaps their personal reading plans could first be done for the age group they’re headed for? You could narrow the range so they won’t feel so overwhelmed. Just one idea. Since I’ve never taught the age you’re discussing, I just hope you’ll discover different ways to reach them in a motivating way so they know that this knowledge will be so important in their careers. Thanks for sharing about your own challenges.

    • I think that’s a huge part of it, Linda. This is going to be hard for some of my blog readers to believe (and not hard at all for others!), but I have never taught a single college student who has ever experienced a reading/writing workshop classroom at any time in their K-12 education (I’ve been teaching college for 7 years now). They’ve never experienced any of the pedagogical approaches that I model in all my courses and teach explicitly in my Methods courses (inquiry-based learning, social justice pedagogies, project-based learning, workshop, etc.) I think you’re absolutely right: our students don’t realize that doing “what the teacher tells you to do” isn’t actually learning. Why should they? That’s what they know about “doing school.” And many of them chose to be education majors in the first place because they like school and do well at it. Shifting to a learner-centered focus is a huge shift in thinking for them, and it can be so empowering and exciting but also overwhelming and uncomfortable.

  2. I think you’ve hit on a lot of good points, some that I have thought of as I work with my colleagues. I work in a school with teachers that do not have a readerly life. They might have at some point, but other than reading some read alouds, some favorite standbys that are read year after year, and their favorite guided reading books, they don’t read. I’ve shared some social media sites and talked them up, but no matter what my enthusiasm is, they are not ready to accept these ideas. How to get them to understand? Don’t have the answer to that one yet, will definitely be working on it! Like you said in the comments on my blog today, it seems strange to have to explicitly share things that have just come natural to us – book talking, having book plans, trying new genres – is not something that comes natural to all. It is always so exciting when you bring at least one person around, though!

    • I wish I had some better answers too! Getting the adults on board is a huge challenge. If teachers don’t see the value in having rich reading lives for themselves, I feel like we need to start there and try to help them first, but how? We are all so resistant to change and resistant to being given “pointers.” I think a lot of this conversation needs to be happening in Education programs, but I know that it’s not. I need to be more of an advocate on my campus for having the right kinds of conversations with our students about their reading, writing, and learning lives. My students who “get it” with social media really, really get it, but there are only a handful who keep it up after my class is over. I had a lot of success last semester inviting one of my students to present on blogging in one of my classes. Hoping to get her back again next semester and maybe have her talk up Twitter too!

  3. I continue to be very interested in how you are applying this book to your college students and I commend you for doing so. My love is and always has been children’s literature. I think it would be very difficult to teach elementary age students without being a reader yourself. Your quote, “But I realized that so many of the wild reading behaviors Donalyn describes in the other chapters are learned, modeled, practiced, shared, and reinforced through reading communities,” was a really important point to make and I feel that it synthesized what we’ve read so far. I can see the ways that you creating such a community for your students and I’m sure it will help them in their future placements. Thanks for sharing your thinking again.

    • Thanks, Jamie! I can certainly see the effects on my own children of being in classrooms with teachers who don’t love to read. I feel like the love of reading needs to be foundational to the teaching of reading. I wonder what it is about the set-up of school systems that makes it so easy to get away from what we know to be true, from what is good common sense, from what really matters. I still have so much thinking to do about reading community–really enjoying learning from the posts that were published this week about that!

  4. Reading does have a funny spot in our society, doesn’t it? Is it something we do to learn? To relax? To connect? To pass the time? I suppose the real readers are the ones who read for many purposes, not just one. If I don’t read to learn, why bother with professional books? If I don’t want to connect, why bother with book clubs and social book sharing? I am interested in seeing how this struggle to encourage readers starts in kindergarten and doesn’t end for some learners, even those in university preparing to teach.

    • Great points, Lisa–and how many of those purposes do we include in the way we teach reading in school? We need to design our reading curricula to include all of those purposes–as well as to recognize we don’t read every single text for all of those purposes! Not ALL of my reading is social, for instance, and I don’t really want to be required to make every single thing I read social! And when I’m reading for escape and passing the time, I definitely don’t want to be tracking my thinking or making text-to-world connections! Wondering now how often I talk about these different purposes in my own classes. Need to think about that more! Thanks for the comment.

  5. You’ve given me something important to think about before school starts—that my kids will have to see themselves as readers before they can set too many goals. You are so right. I was all ready to jump right in with setting a plan for the semester. But many of them haven’t read in years. Time to rethink….

    • Deb, I’m not sure I would have picked up on this problem if I hadn’t done the same lesson and made the same personalized reading plan/goal requirement in two different classes this semester–with very different results. The students in my Adolescent Lit course were ready to jump in with reading plans right away, and they came up with ambitious, specific, very personal plans that they were so excited to pursue. But they’re already wild readers, have been for years, that’s why they became English majors, and they’re mostly thrilled to have a class that invites them to read wildly for a whole semester. In Children’s Lit, my students are mostly not wild readers; in fact, many of them confess during that first week that they hate to read. Their goals were very vague and almost disconnected from themselves…it was clearly just a school assignment. In Ad Lit, students could chat knowledgeably and excitedly about their progress every week. In Kid Lit, students had to look up their goals every time I asked them about it because they couldn’t even remember what their goals were from week to week! Trying to think of ways I can start smaller in Children’s Lit (maybe with commitment plans only for most students) and also give students some exploration/discovery time before setting goals. I’m also thinking I need to share more examples of readers’ plans with them. Luckily, my online PLN will give me plenty of examples to share!

  6. Great suggestions! I would love to hear more about how you plan to help your students know themselves as readers at the beginning of the year – I think that is so crucial.

    • I think I’m going to write a blog post about that very topic because I need to think through my ideas more–and writing is always the best way for me to figure out what I really know about something!

  7. Elisabeth, this realization you shared is one that has me thinking: “…it’s actually quite difficult to have a reading plan before you know who you are as a reader.”

    I shared some concern that I have-in the past-asked students to jump into reading community participation expecting that they are coming to me in 4th grade with knowledge about themselves as a reader, including preferences, significant memories or books in their reading lives, and even struggles or obstacles they know will slow them down. The truth is, many don’t have awareness of these things. Thank you for offering me a missing piece in such a straightforward way. I will give some consideration to how to ease students in to owning their reading identities a little more. As with anything, I’m sure some will need more support than others!

    I guess I am also thinking I want to share this pondering with my colleagues at earlier grade levels. I don’t think there is any grade too soon for beginning to have these conversations and helping students own their reading identity. How great if my kiddos were not starting this work at grade 4!

    Thanks for sharing your thinking.

    • I really appreciate your comment, Melissa. It is always sad to me that so many of my college students have missed out on dynamic engaged reading lives. Many of them stopped reading around 6th grade–and that’s surely not a coincidence. Teacher read-alouds stopped, weekly visits to the school library stopped, they no longer had access to classroom libraries, and they suddenly had all assigned reading, mostly classics. They may not have had strong identities as readers to begin with. I think it’s so important to have those metacognitive, reflective conversations with our students about their reading identities. These three weeks of #cyberPD have shown me that I’m jumping in too fast for some of my students and need to spend more time at the beginning of the semester helping some of them recover and develop their reading identities.

  8. Elisabeth,
    Sorry to be late getting around. I think I’m going to be busy for the next few days.

    You said, “I wondered if reading community is actually the most important factor in the creation, care, and maintenance of wild readers.” I have wondered about this myself. I know how much having a reading community has changed my reading life. Is social connection an important piece for readers? Is it most important for those trying to make gains to catch up to peers? Do we value time to for social connection related to reading in our classrooms and schools? I wonder…

    When I think back to my preservice days, I was fortunate some of the best professors were in children’s literature. I didn’t have a reading plan then. I would likely have struggled to define myself as a reader. However, by following “lead readers” I found books I loved and rediscovered reading for pleasure.

    Your emphasis on the power of social media in maintaining reading communities is important. For many readers, finding a community through social media helps build reading conversations. Perhaps finding our own reading communities is much like finding our own personal learning network. It’s about building connections to help us continue to live the life of a reader.

    I’m thinking your students are lucky to have you,

    • Hi Cathy, I know that for me, the community I have through social media is probably the most important factor in my reading identity. That’s where I find those “lead readers”. I love what you say about building those connections and I’m wondering about what more I can do to help my students find and develop their reading communities. Your questions about how we use our time in school and how much we really value the social connections that are so necessary to our reading lives are so important to think about.

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