Wednesday, July 23, 2014

CyberPD Week #3: 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!

Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild has undoubtedly made a lasting impression on me. Reading this book has inspired me to become more of a wild reader in my own life and has challenged me to think about the ways in which I will instill wild reading habits in the lives of my students. Each time I finish a chapter, thoughts whir inside my head of how to best implement Donalyn Miller's ideas in my life and classroom. This week, as I finished chapter 5, Wild Readers Show Preferences, and thought about its application to my life, two words stuck out in my mind:

1. I need to read more books! 
It seems like every page of Reading in the Wild preaches this fact to me. It is undeniable: I have to read more books! I truly enjoy reading now, but I don't do it with the fervor I once did. I was the girl in middle school who walked down the hall during class changes reading a book and who skipped recess to stay inside and read. Unfortunately, a midst the busyness of high school, college, and grad school, I lost my excitement for reading (I think it got buried deep underneath a stack of textbooks). Lately, I've been feeling the love reignite, though, and I want to keep fanning that flame! As Donalyn Miller continuously points out, I must read often so that I can (A) be a role model for my students, and (B) know what books to recommend to them. 

2. I need to read more widely! 
In my personal reading life, I am definitely guilty of returning to the same types and genres of books time after time. I would estimate that 90% of my reading involves either realistic fiction (and mostly young adult fiction these days, as I prepare to teach MS/HS) or some type of spiritually-focused non-fiction text (e.g. the Bible or devotionals). I very seldom stray from these fields. Eek! Donalyn Miller is cringing. 

After reading chapter 5, I am vowing to start reading more widely! I need to know about books that appeal to all types of readers. In this chapter, Donalyn Miller points out that our students' reading should not be influenced by our own personal preferences and biases, and I know that she is right. I want to read from a variety of genres so that I am knowledgeable about any type of book my students might like. I need to explore books beyond those I naturally gravitate toward. 

One of the first things I want to do is to read a graphic novel. I actually have not tried this type of book yet, having always "written them off" as "long cartoons," but now having read Donalyn's take on graphic novels in this chapter, I have decided to give them a try. I know my ELLs will benefit from it if I am more knowledgeable about graphic novels that might appeal to them. 

3. I need to intentionally build excitement in my students about all genres of books. 
Good habits don't just form. They come from intentional, repeated practice. I believe that this is true for reading habits, too. Throughout this chapter, it became so apparent to me that nothing Donalyn Miller does in her classroom is haphazard. She puts so much thought into every book she reads and recommends. This is how I desire to be in my classroom, as well. 

I cannot expect my students to just start reading from a variety of genres on their own. Most children will naturally gravitate toward particular genres and will hesitate to stray from them. However, it's important for me to begin showing them the beauty and intrigue in a variety of books. How will they ever branch out as readers if I don't get them excited about what other genres have to offer? 

In my classroom this year, I hope to do this by deliberately doing book commercials about books that span wide styles and genres. I also like the idea of using a non-fiction text for a read aloud in my classroom. This isn't something I had considered before reading chapter 5, but it certainly seems like a great idea to help excite my students about reading non-fiction and pique their interest. I think that many of them come in with similar biases to what Donalyn Miller described in her own students (e.g. non-fiction is all about dead presidents and whales!). By carefully selecting some non-fiction texts, I can prove to them that non-fiction can be fascinating. 

4. I must hold my students accountable for reading books from more genres.  
Perhaps my favorite part of this chapter was Donalyn Miller's explanation of her "genre requirements graph." I love this idea! It seems like a great method to keep students accountable for what kinds of books they are reading. I also really like that Donalyn gives students a required number of books to read by genre, but allows for an allotment of "free choice" genres, as well. In my opinion, it is the perfect way to ensure that students are exposed to a myriad of styles of writing without restricting their freedom too much or turning reading into a chore. I see these genre requirement graphs as a tool that students can use to help them discover their reading preferences as they experiment with reading across all genres. 

I am almost certainly going to be "stealing" this idea from Donalyn Miller in my ESL classes in the future! In fact, I may even create my own "genre requirements graph" and, in an effort to make sure that I do read more widely, hold myself accountable to the same standard Donalyn sets for her students! 

5. The best, most beneficial reading conferences are done with intentionality. 
As I mentioned earlier, nothing Donalyn Miller does in her classroom is haphazard. There is a rhyme and reason for everything....right down to calling her kids "readers" and "writers" instead of "students" so that the identity they build in the classroom is one they can carry with them well beyond their school years. I just love that! 

Donalyn Miller's intentionality jumped out at me most with respect to her reading conferences. Do  any of you ever feel lost directing a reading conference with your student? To  me, it seems like it's easy to know that we should do reading conferences, but hard to know exactly how to do them well. For that reason, I really appreciated the description in this chapter of how Donalyn Miller runs her reading conferences. Each question she asks, each minute she uses, and each note she takes has a purpose. Her conferences are not "conferences for conferences sake," but rather more like an intentional, deliberate art of gathering specific clues to help her learn about her readers and teach them how to grow. I aspire to bring the same intentionality to my classroom in the upcoming school year. 

As if the first five chapters weren't helpful enough, Donalyn Miller concludes this book with a wonderful appendix that is chock full of useful resources. I know I will be going back to these appendices in the future when I am wondering, "WWDMD" (What Would Donalyn Miller Do?")! 


  1. Nothing is haphazard...I like that! I need it cross stitched in a pillow! :). I noticed the intentionality of her teaching as well. I think that should be my One Little Word for the school year.

  2. Great reflection, Laura! I especially liked how you linked your own practices into what you are trying to teach your students. I agree that it seems completely unfair to hold our students to certain requirements and expectations (say, genre) and not challenge ourselves to do the same.

  3. Laura,
    More intention. Yes! I think this book has all of us thinking about small intentional moves we can make to support the reading lives of our students. WWDMD….this made me laugh.