Have you ever savored a delicious dessert before eating dinner? I have – and I have to admit that although I always feel a tad guilty doing it, it never fails to be supremely enjoyable.
That’s how I felt when I delved into Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild before reading her first book, The Book Whisperer. I had every intention of reading The Book Whisperer this summer, but when I learned about the #cyberPD opportunity, I knew I couldn’t pass up the chance to read what was sure to be an incredible book alongside so many other educators. So, I decided it was a “dessert before dinner”-type moment, immediately purchased Donalyn’s second book on my Kindle, vowing to later purchase the first. I’m two chapters in and so far it has been exactly what I hoped it would be – inspiring, thought-provoking, and, as with any real “dessert-before-dinner experience,” supremely enjoyable.
Reading in the Wild provides a tremendous amount of food for thought. It was one of those books in which I began highlighting important information and soon found myself staring at an explosion of color on the pages of my Kindle.
The introduction alone was enough to make me burst at the seams with excitement about equipping my future students not only with the skills they need to read, but also with a love of reading that will cause them to become independent, life-long readers and book-lovers. If the statistics Donalyn shares in her introduction don’t get you fired up about reading, I don’t know what will! As she notes, “children who read the most will always outperform children who don’t read much,” as it is the habit that is most linked to success in the workforce, getting a professional job, and college/career readiness (Introduction, para. 7). How could we not want to help all of our students become “wild readers”?
Since it’s hard to argue with the facts surrounding the importance of reading, the real question lies in how we can teach students to become “wild readers”- that is, independent, life-long, habitual readers and book-lovers. To that point, each chapter in Reading in the Wild discusses characteristics that lifelong readers exhibit. For our #cyberPD reading assignment this week, we learned that “Wild Readers Dedicate Time to Read” (chapter 1) and “Wild Readers Self-Select Reading Material” (chapter 2).
As I consider how I want these two chapters to affect my life as a teacher this coming year, I have come away with a few key takeaways:
(Side note: I am reading this book through the lens of an International Program Director at a Christian School. While my primary duties now involve recruiting international students, I will hopefully begin teaching Supplemental English Instruction and Writing Workshop courses starting in January).
Chapter 1 Takeaways
(1) “Not having time” cannot be an excuse not to read – for my students or for me! I have to admit that I am guilty of pushing reading aside when life gets hectic. I tend to “binge read” on vacation but in the day-to-day, my personal reading often suffers at the expense of tackling my to-do list. As the “lead reader” in my classes, I need to devote time to reading in order to model for my students what being a wild reader looks like (Classroom Nonnegotiables section, para. 5). My students need to see me making time for reading because it is important and enjoyable. I love how Donalyn discusses reading in “edge time” or during “reading emergencies” with her students. These are conversations that I hope to have with my future students. I believe that they show how reading can (and should) be integrated into our busy lives.
On a similar note, I want to always devote time to reading in my classes. As a new teacher this year, I think that there will be times when I am tempted to forgo reading in an effort to “catch up” on a myriad of other things. However, cutting out reading time not only prevents students from having those 10, 20, or 30 minutes to read that day, but it always sends harmful messages to my students that reading is the first thing to go when our schedule is full.
(2) One thought that really struck me as I read this chapter was that reading is not a solitary activity! This is an easy mistake to make. However, this chapter reminded me of the importance of a reading community. This is something I want to establish in my classroom. Students need the opportunity to discuss what they are reading with each other, share book recommendations, and develop “reading relationships.” They also need belong to a community of readers that values reading. Through the relationships they foster in that community, they may come to see that reading is not just something that takes place in school during “required” time.
(3) Reading isn’t haphazard! I want to give my students opportunities to reflect on their personal reading habits so that they can gain the skills they need to become wild readers. I like Donalyn’s idea of using “Reading Itineraries” and “Response Letters 2.0” as some tools to do this.
Chapter 2 Takeaways
(1) I love the idea of doing read alouds across various genres with my students! I had never considered this before, having only ever thought of using fiction for read alouds. This seems like a great way to pique students’ interest in genres they wouldn’t normally consider.
(2) Donalyn’s ideas on how to create excitement in students (or “book buzz,” as she calls it) for new books were ideas that I immediately wanted to incorporate in my future classroom. I definitely want to utilize “book commercials” with my students and just love her idea of the “book drawing”!
(3) I think transitioning from suggesting specific books for students to read to enabling them to self-select books would be a difficult task. The “preview stacks” idea of giving students a stack of several recommended books is genius! I appreciate how this gives students the opportunity to practice self-selecting based off recommendations from a source they trust, but also lets them exert their independence in book selection (and possibly even gives them a few ideas to add to their “to read” list).
(4) The primary thought I had at the end of this chapter was something along the lines of, “I need to read more books!” If I want my future students to become wild readers, I am going to need to help them along the journey. Of course, this will require me to be able to recommend books for them and to teach them how to self-select books. I cannot really do this very well if I’m not familiar with books that are appropriate for them. The biggest takeaway for me here is to read, read, read!