Wednesday, July 16, 2014

CyberPD Week 2: Reading in the Wild

This year, I am participating in my first CyberPD event. We are reading Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild together! During the month of July, we'll be reading and reflecting on her amazing book and its implications for our classrooms!


Reading Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild for CyberPD has really made me think! This book is loaded with so much good information that I almost find my brain to be on overload each time I finish a chapter. As I have been reading, one of the biggest questions that has been swirling around in my mind has been, "What does being a teacher who helps students learn to read in the wild look like for me?" 

For the last two years, while I have been in graduate school, I have written what seems like countless reflection papers about books my professors deemed noteworthy. Each time I wrote a reflection, I would include in it a plan to apply the principles from that book or chapter to my future classroom and teaching. Almost always, I imagined implementing various practices and principles in either a secondary ESL classroom or an Intensive English Program. Both environments were pretty obvious places to apply the lessons I was learning in my TESOL Master's program and were, at the time, my "future dream jobs." 

However, as I sat and reflected on Reading in the Wild this week, I found myself struggling to visualize exactly how I was going to apply the principles from this book in my life and classroom this year. There is no doubt in my mind that Donalyn Miller is spot-on with everything she says. The trouble is, I can't figure out what it will look like to flesh all of this out this year for me. 

You see, on July 1st, I started working as the International Program Director at a local Christian school. Honestly, the job is perfect and it's more of a "dream job" than I ever could have imagined. The story of how I got it is one of God's faithfulness - but that's a story for another time. The important information is that this semester, my biggest responsibilities will involve: completing the design for an international homestay program, recruiting students from other countries, and teaching 6th- and 7th-grade Spanish. 

These responsibilities are pretty different from those I thought I would have as a secondary ESL teacher. Once we recruit international students and have them come to our school, I will then be in charge of teaching two ESL classes, but until that point, my job consists largely of the three areas listed above. 

So, as I read chapters 3 and 4 of Reading in the Wild, I found myself repeatedly thinking, "This stuff is great! But how can I implement any of this in the upcoming semester? What does it look like to encourage students to read in the wild from the lens of an International Program Director/part-time (traveling) Spanish teacher?" 

This is a work-in-progress, but at this point in time, after some reading and reflection, here is what I came up with: In my current position, this semester I can apply what I'm learning in Reading in the Wild by becoming more of a wild reader! 

Once I have ELLs of my own, you better believe that I will be going back to this book and trying to apply what I've learned about reading conferences, reading graffiti, reading doors, preview stacks, book drawings, reflections, reading communities, and more! Until then, though, I want to spend this semester becoming more of a wild reader. I have to believe that displaying wild reading habits on a consistent basis will have a positive effect on the students around me - even if I'm teaching Spanish and not ESL. 

As I said earlier, Reading in the Wild has made me think. It has made me evaluate my own habits and has pointed out several areas in which I need to grow as a wild reader. With that in mind, here are some of my biggest takeaways from chapters 3 and 4: 

  • I need to remember that, as Donalyn Miller says, "reading is ultimately a social act" (How Wild Readers Share Books, para. 1). I have often fallen prey to the idea that reading is what quiet introverts (me!) do. The more I read in Reading in the Wild, the more I understand that it is so important to talk about books with others. Just this week, I started trying to do a better job of this and began asking some of my friends what they had been reading lately, if they were on Goodreads, etc. I smiled in my heart as I realized how very right Donalyn Miller really is. I left each conversation I had with my friends feeling closer to them (because we had connected on a new level), more excited about reading in general, and with several book recommendations that I immediately added to my own Goodreads "to read" shelf (some from genres I don't normally tend to prefer)! Making reading more of a "social act" is something I want to work on this year. 
  • As I consider my "bottom line" as a teacher this year, I know that I want to foster meaningful relationships with all of my students. No matter what I am teaching, reading books that interest my students is one way to develop relationships with them. So, this year, I want to spend a lot of time with my nose in some great youth fiction reads. I love the thought of having impromptu "book talks" with students before and after school, in passing in the hallways, etc., and learning about them as we talk about the books we enjoy. 
  • If reading affects a child's performance in every academic area (and I believe it does), then all administrators and teachers (foreign language included) need to be reading role models for their students. Just because I am not the one explicitly teaching them how to be wild readers doesn't mean I shouldn't model for them what it looks like to be a wild reader. As Donalyn Miller discusses, children need to be part of communities that value reading, and I would love to be a part my students' reading communities! I can only do that well, though, if I am truly a "wild reader." 
  • I need to challenge myself as a reader more and try to identify some of my "book gaps," as she mentions in chapter 4. I already know two of my biggest book gaps. Are you ready for this? For some reason, even though both series are unbelievably popular in our culture, I cannot make it through The Chronicles of Narnia or Harry Potter. Gasp! I know, I know. No one can believe that I just don't really love either of these book series. I've read a few books in each and always find myself  bored or uninterested. However, I know that both of these series are pretty popular with the students I will interact with this year. So, perhaps this will be the year that I will finally try to fill in some of these glaring book gaps (and then work to identify and tackle other gaps I know I have in my reading life). 
  • Finally, as Donalyn Miller discusses in chapter 4, I want to figure out a way to challenge myself in my reading life more. I'm honestly not sure of the best way to do this. I've seen "annual reading goals" that people can set on Goodreads and like the idea of reading every book from an award-winning list. However, to be completely honest, part of me is hesitant to set one of these goals specifically because I'm afraid that reading will then begin to feel like a chore or something I "have to do" rather than something I do out of enjoyment. What are you thoughts on this? How have you all found success in challenging yourself as readers without losing the love of it or feeling bogged down by goals you set? 

So, there you have it! Chapter 3 and 4 of Reading in the Wild have certainly given me much to ruminate on. There are so many ways I can apply these principles in my job this year even though I won't be an ESL teacher, as I originally thought. 

Do you have other suggestions for how I can apply some of the ideas from 'Reading in the Wild' in my job this year? I'd love to hear them! 


  1. Laura, I really enjoy reading your thoughts on Reading in the Wild! I, too, connected with the fact that reading is a social act! I am also 100% sure that you will get to use this part of reading in your new job! Your international students want to connect with America and Americans. What better way to do that than through books. I think that 10 months from now you'll be amazed at how much of this "wild reading" you have done with those you are connected to. Perhaps many will become wild readers of the Bible!

    1. Janna,
      Thanks for your encouragement! I'm excited to see what God has in store for me down the line. It is certainly my hope and prayer that some of my future students will become wild readers of the Bible! :)

  2. I'm with Jaana! I think a reading display for an office is just as important as one for a classroom. Help build excitement for reading from day one!

  3. I agree that you may be surprised how your enthusiasm for reading will carry over to students as you curate your own as well as other readers reading habits! Good luck with your new position! Keep us updated!

  4. Laura,
    Your question, "What does being a teacher who helps students learn to read in the wild look like for me?", does change when you consider your new position. I, too, am changing positions in the upcoming year. I will no longer have a classroom of my own. I'll be working to support readers across our reading community. It is a bit easier to see how I will help in the development of wild readers in this position than in your new position. However, I loved when you said, "I have to believe that displaying wild reading habits on a consistent basis will have a positive effect on the students around me - even if I'm teaching Spanish and not ESL." Imagine if everyone a child came into contact with across his/her years in school was a wild reader. It seems this would have an impact. Like you, I'm looking for ways to share my reading life and ignite the life of other readers across our school community.