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.