Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Reading in the Wild: Chapter 5 and Appendices #cyberPD

Chapter 5 of Donalyn Miller's book, Reading in the Wild, may have been my favorite chapter of the book. It is titled "Wild Readers Show Preferences." Perhaps it is my favorite chapter because it is the one that caused me to do the most reflecting upon my own reading habits and on what I do (or, more accurately, what I haven't been doing) in the classroom.

My own reading preferences are similar to the Wild Reader Survey results. I, too, prefer realism over fantasy. However, that doesn't mean that I only read realistic fiction. I have varied and broad tastes when it comes to my reading preferences, but that's a blog for another day…

I examined my own reading preferences and mentally congratulated myself for the tremendous job I did in sharing my preferences with my students. Then it hit me. It shouldn't be about MY reading preferences. It should be about my STUDENTS' reading preferences. "Valuing their tastes shows our students that we trust them to make their own decisions about what they read. Students' preferences should hold as much sway in the classroom community as ours." (page 167) I began to feel guilty, but further reflection reminded me that I did do a great deal to honor my students and their preferences. Josh loved soccer, so I found both fiction and nonfiction books for him. Elli worshipped her dog and was an aspiring equestrian, so books with dogs and girls entering horse shows were added to my library. But did I dig deeply enough to find out about each students' preferences, or did I barely skim the surface?

Yes, I worked diligently to find books to suit my students' preferences, but where I truly fell short was in not reading widely enough myself. "We must push ourselves to read widely in order to best serve our students--as role models who read for diverse purposes and reading advisors who know a lot about books that appeal to all types of readers. The more widely we read, the more expertise we offer to our students." (page 167) An implication for me would be that I would have to start expanding my horizons, and I challenged myself to start by reading a graphic novel. I had just finished reading Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, so I then read Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography by Jacobson and Colon (2010.) In doing so, I  received valuable background knowledge about Anne and her family that I didn't learn from her diary.

Surprisingly, I also learned about myself as a reader and about my reading process. The graphic format was an unfamiliar genre, and I struggled to make meaning at times. We reading educators should do that more often--immerse ourselves in difficult and unfamiliar text. If we only read "easy" texts, we are not forced to examine our own metacognitive processes. Sometimes we unintentionally leave important details out of our think alouds because we read with automaticity; the reading process has become second nature to us. It is much more authentic, relevant, and worthwhile to our students when we show them how we grapple with our own unfamiliar, difficult text.

Donalyn discusses the power of rereading favorite books on page 175. I admit that from year-to-year, I frequently reread favorite picture books and novels in my classroom, but I rarely reread books for personal pleasure. (I hereby vow to reread To Kill a Mockingbird this summer!) There are definitely benefits of allowing students to reread their favorite books. Perhaps now I won't be so quick to judge when I see a student reading a book for the umpteenth time, but I will ask more questions about why the student chooses to do so.

As an instructional specialist who works mostly with literacy instruction, I frequently challenge the teachers with whom I work to make sure they have a balance in the genres of books they share with their classes: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. This past year I shared the nonfiction website as a way to include more nonfiction that is both appealing and of high-interest. I love Donalyn's idea on page 181 of teachers sharing a few amazing, nonfiction facts each day with students during transition times. I've witnessed teachers do this with joke books, too.

In Donalyn's discussion of the reading habits conferences she has with students, she mentions on pages 184-185 that she assesses her students' independent reading levels three times per year. In my district, our teachers do the same thing but with a different assessment. We have been trying (somewhat unsuccessfully) to move teachers away from labeling students with the level they reached. ("Oh, Johnny? He's a level 8. He could never read that book on elephants because it's a level 14.") Donalyn says that she records "at, above, or below grade level." I'd much rather my teachers view their students' levels in that manner instead of pigeon-holing them into a numbered level.

Donalyn ends the chapter with her 40-book requirement for her students. This is not new information to her fans and followers, but I like her explanation of why she does that is." The main reason Susie and I expect students to try a little bit of everything is so that they can find what they like to read." (page 192) How else will they know what they like if they haven't tried a variety of different genres? How will we, as teachers, know?

I appreciate the invaluable information in the appendices at the end of the book. I particularly like the easy-to-implement, straightforward, teacher- and student-friendly forms in appendix A and B. I would like to have the faculty at our school answer the Wild Reader Survey in order to start an interesting conversation about the results. I plan to share Appendix E: Students' Favorite Titles and Series with teachers interested in expanding and/or updating (or even starting!) their classroom libraries.

So, now that the summer is coming to a close, it's time for my real thinking to begin. How am I going to implement all of these ideas with my teachers when we are back at school? I cannot wait to see how the ideas presented here impact our school.


  1. Great reflection! I especially like your idea of having the staff get together and fill out and share their own wild reader surveys. What a great way to start the year!

  2. Jill,
    I have seen this often as I've traveled from blog to blog this time; the moment we realize we favor our reading preferences in our classrooms. "Then it hit me. It shouldn't be about MY reading preferences. It should be about my STUDENTS' reading preferences." As I am thinking about your thoughts on this, I'm wondering if I even send unintended messages to readers who prefer different books. Your point to grow ourselves beyond our preferences is well taken. It is interesting when we tackle unfamiliar structures and genres to have an opportunity to look carefully at our process. As an example, this week we resubscribed to our local newspaper as it appears there may be improvements to their digital formatting. As we read the paper, we had to learn how to navigate the digital version using what we know about a paper and what we know about technology. It was interesting to have to think so much about navigating a text.

    Your conversation about levels caught my attention. It is hard to talk about readers by what we notice they can do and what they need to learn next instead of by levels. I wonder if this might not be true a bit when setting number goals as well. "I've read 26 books" could become the conversation instead of sharing preferences, strengths and next steps as readers in reflections.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughtful reflections,

  3. Jill - I'm in total agreement on your epiphany about MY reading preferences versus the STUDENTS' reading - I tried a little experiment with my summer school class this week. I didn't tell them what I read while we visited the library - I asked them what they had read. Totally different to have students recommending books to other students.

    I also need to become a wider reader, especially during read aloud. I love picture books for read aloud - now I just have to weave in some poetry, nonfiction and other texts.

    Thanks for sharing your thinking!