#cyberPD 2014 #3: Reading in the Wild

reading-in-the-wild   cyber PD


The 4th annual summer#cyberPD conversation about Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild continues today, hosted by:

Michelle Nero at Literacy Learning Zone(@litlearningzone)

Cathy Mere at  Reflect and Refine: Building A Learning Community (@CathyMere)

Laura Komos at Ruminate and Invigorate (@LauraKomos)

Today’s focus: Chapter 5 and the Appendices

Chapter 5:

I loved that this chapter started with this quote by Markus Zusak:

“Sometimes you read a book so special that you want to carry it around for months after you’ve finished just to stay near it.”

Why? Because I remember books like this, books I stashed away in my backpack because returning them to my bookshelves signified a loss I just couldn’t face… yet.  I want my kids to have relationships to books and authors, too – I want them to find books which speak to them, get under their skin, stay in their hearts.  So, thank you Donalyn for starting the last chapter in your marvelous book with this quote.

Two issues in Chapter 5 really connected with me: student preferences and non fiction.

This chapter inspired me to turn to my students, listen to them more closely, and allow them to feel empowered in their choices as readers.  When students show preferences, the chapter’s title, we should heed them.  Here’s the part that I read, re read, marked up, and then read again:

Determining students’ reading preferences helps teachers match books with readers.  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…we cannot let our personal reading preferences become biases that limit students’ reading. 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. (p. 167)

The truth is, I, too, have students who show strong preferences for certain genres and authors.  And these preferences often run counter to mine.  I am not (sadly) a fan of the Percy Jackson series, the Twilight series, or the Pretty Little Liars series…but I have kids who LOVE these books, devour them in no time, and hunger for more.  Their discussions about characters, plot lines and themes are wonderful (and very animated), and display the benefits of what Donalyn calls “positive encounters with books.”  As she writes, these “provide a starting point for building positive reading relationships between us and our students.”  Once we acknowledge these preferences, understand that these preferences indicate that students have formed a basis for cultivating their reading identities, we  can inch them towards wider reading habits.  But first, we need to validate their choices as readers – even celebrate these choices.

I now cringe at the memory of Angela, now a sophomore in college, who loved the Twilight books.  I took issue with aspects of the story, the way Bella’s character seemed perpetually stunted, and all kinds of other things.  So, I forbade Twilight as an “appropriate choice.”  The result? Angela shunned my suggestions, and did very little reading for me.  She read the series several times over, on her own time, but made it very clear that anything I gave her would result in “fake reading.”   What a mistake!

I remembered all of this when I read about Donalyn’s  graphic novel-loving student, Armann, and this piece of wisdom she shared:

I realized that every lesson I taught about reading and writing, Armann applied to the graphic novels he read.  His skills reading more traditional text improved because he practiced what he learned with his beloved graphic novels every day. (p. 172)

Lesson learned.  We have to let our students lead, their engagement depends on their sense of empowerment.

The section on nonfiction also spoke to me, because (like so many teachers) I am struggling with  the Common Core push towards nonfiction at the expense of fiction.  How to strike a meaningful balance?  I thought that  what Donalyn had to say about this was so on point:

For the most part, we expect students to read nonfiction only for class work when assigning research reports…And increasingly, we encourage students to conduct research online and short-cut reading nonfiction at all.  Without much exposure, access, or experience reading nonfiction in their classes, it’s not surprising that older students read less of this genre.  As with any other type of text, we must look for meaningful ways to incorporate nonfiction material in our classrooms if we want children to read more of it. (179)

In many ways, without meaning to, we have erected this classroom wall between fiction (real reading, fun reading, the reading we talk about and get excited over) and nonfiction reading (work reading, fact checking and listing  and research reading, boring reading which we talk about only because we have to).  And our kids have been paying attention.  Hence the groans and moans when we move into nonfiction units of study, or what is revealed when we poll our students about their reading habits.

Donalyn listed many imaginative and meaningful ways in which we can incorporate nonfiction so that it becomes a natural part of our reading workshops, not some separate entity that exists in its own reading vacuum: book talks, read alouds, mentor text studies, paired with fiction (I especially love the connection to historical fiction), and maintaining nonfiction libraries that are exciting places to visit.  I definitely need to think about how much of this type of intentional incorporation I plan in my reading workshop.


The end of the year forms were a revelation to me – what a wonderful way to gather summative data!  We are scrambling just to get things completed in those last days, but these surveys showed me opportunities to gather important information about where my students thought they were at the end of the year – in other words, how they felt they had grown as readers and created reading habits they could sustain once they had left my classroom.  

I also loved the genre requirements graph (p.191) – my kids would really benefit from this type of visual reminder of their reading journey over the course of the year.

Finally, in the “Wild Reading Survey” – #3 and #10 are questions I need to include in my reading survey – such a smart way to learn key aspects of a student’s reading profile right away!

I’m so looking forward to heading over to Michelle’s blog to see what our cyber PD group has to say – join us there!

And…something to look forward to (I will be on holiday in London then, and will try to tune in):

July 30 – 7 p.m. CST live Twitter chat with author Donalyn Miller



11 thoughts on “#cyberPD 2014 #3: Reading in the Wild

  1. I was thinking about how I use nonfiction too. There are very few textbooks for primary age children, but I am always using nonfiction books to enhance our social studies & science lessons. I feel it helps reinforce reading skills across our day. However, I am not promoting a love of NF this way. I saw Tony Stead at a conference a few years ago. He advocates for encouraging lots of NF writing in the primary grades because it is more accessible for little people who are still building an understanding of how stories work. (I tried it, & writing fiction stories is hard!) I started providing more NF reading material then so my students could be immersed before we started writing units. I’m going to think more about reading NF for fun. I know lots of adults who read only NF!

  2. Tara,
    Thanks again for joining in the conversation! Your thoughts and reflections add so much to the conversation — and I’d love to spend a day (or more like weeks!) in your reading community!

    The section about knowing our students’ preferences — and allowing their choices to empower them as readers — resonated with me as well. So hard to do sometimes when we have our own preferences. I’ve never told a student not to read a book, but I know that I don’t always have the same enthusiasm when sharing ALL books! And we should! No matter what we think — I need to remember my bottom: getting books in the hands of our newly minted wild readers!

    This was eye opening to me — and you have expressed it so well: “In many ways, without meaning to, we have erected this classroom wall between fiction (real reading, fun reading, the reading we talk about and get excited over) and nonfiction reading (work reading, fact checking and listing and research reading, boring reading which we talk about only because we have to).” We need to ‘tear down that wall’ and move to the balance of F/NF in our classrooms without either feeling like work.

    Happy to see that you also found some nuggets from the forms as well! Looking forward to how all these new wild reading ideas shape our classrooms in the fall!


  3. Thank you for your post! We both pondered the same “big ideas!” When you mentioned, “In many ways, without meaning to, we have erected this classroom wall between fiction (real reading, fun reading, the reading we talk about and get excited over) and nonfiction reading (work reading, fact checking and listing and research reading, boring reading which we talk about only because we have to).” Could we model tearing down this wall by how set up our classroom library? What about a few topic baskets that are blended with fiction and non-fiction text that would support each other to build background knowledge or in reverse, be an avenue to act on curiosity after reading? Could it be that simple for a starting point? Thanks for giving me lots to ponder on a rainy Wednesday in Ohio!

    • I love this idea about blended baskets, Tracy. Last year I shifted from general informational categories to include some baskets specific to content units of study. Now I’m wondering if I want to introduce a new colored basket (to represent a blend, not straight genre or informational) and group content-related material that way? Thanks for pushing my thinking.

  4. Tara,
    As a trained English teacher, the debate between Literature (with a capital L) and reading is a constant buzz at conferences. With the demand to read “high-quality” literature at the secondary level, student choice of popular fiction tends to be pushed aside. But, I guess it comes down to asking the question, “What is my bottom line?” So I want my students to be life-long readers or readers who can cross off the pre-college reading list? Which will serve them better in the long-term? What do you all think?

    • I was thinking the other day about all the “classic literature” that I didn’t read in high school, but have since picked up and enjoyed. To Kill a Mockingbird and Diary of Anne Frank, both popular high school LA choices, are things I decided I was missing out on and decided to read them on my own. I have read both multiple times, but I can’t recall ever revisiting the books I pretended to read in my English classes. 🙂

  5. Tara,
    I had the same reaction to Twilight. I remember banning Wimpy Kid when it first came out. Now It is in my library (actually it is never in my library). I figure if students are doing the work of a reader in their books of choice we should celebrate. The genre requirements might just push a little on the variety.

    Every year we see the results of our teaching in the growth and direction of our students as readers. In terms of what is best for them, I believe is a developing the love of reading. I believe that if we push them too hard into the realm of books that they don’t want to or can’t read well we will hurt them as readers; effectively pushing them away from reading. Exposure to the literature and non fiction that is grade level and varied in genre should be in every classroom but the amount and digestion of that shouldn’t be at the cost of a disengaged reader.

    Have a wonderful trip and I love your new blog look!

  6. Tara, thanks for sharing your thoughts and especially for being so open about places where you feel like you have room to grow. I think your example about the importance of honoring student preferences is spot-on, and it is a constant conversation I find myself having with parents who want to see their third graders reading “real” books and not graphic novels, for example. I think by honoring student preferences we can also build a bridge to help guide them towards expanding their ideas and selections too, but it has to start with meeting them where they are.

  7. I noted the part about how we must read widely in order to encourage our students, too! I did because I’m coming from a staff that does not read widely. Some read a little. Some read nothing. Most stick with old standbys. Since we have a large and extensive guided reading library, and since our teachers have always been encouraged to use guided reading as the crux of their reading program, teachers have their favorite titles and those are the ones they go to year after year, never reading anything new. I’m hoping to work on that this year. It’s going to be like dragging a car, but hopefully that car ends up being a new, light, eco-friendly car 🙂 Have a fantastic trip!

  8. Your post really spoke to me today, Tara. As a teacher, I think it’s very important to read widely so that I can help all of my students find the books that will speak to them. As you note, my students’ reading preferences and my reading preferences don’t always align. I have read far more memoirs written by gang members and sports biographies than I ever imagined I would! (And it turns out that I find both types of books pretty interesting!) I try to also talk to my pre-service teachers about how we can know about books and recommend books that we haven’t actually read. Even though I read a lot, I still can’t possibly read enough to cover all of my students’ interests and needs. That’s one great virtue of the #imwayr community: I learn about books I might want to buy for my students, and I learn enough about some of the titles to be able to match the book with its rightful reader–who isn’t me!–without needing to read it myself.

  9. Tara,
    What an honest post! There are those students who teach us lessons. I’m thankful for the Kendalls, Paiges, Anatolys, and Jennifers of my career. If only I knew then what I know now. Of course, if only I knew today what I will learn tomorrow. It never ends. I thought I’d have this teaching thing down eventually. :o)

    Your comments about nonfiction really caught my attention. As a primary teacher, my students love nonfiction. I have students who would choose to read it exclusively if it were possible. I have students who learn about nonfiction in our days together and find a place for it in their other reading. Students read nonfiction to find out more. They’re just naturally curious. However, I’m also thinking nonfiction texts have become better suited for their interests. Writers and publishing companies have learned to create texts that catch the attention of readers. Authors like Steve Jenkins, Nicola Davies, and Melissa Stewart have found ways into the hearts of readers. National Geographic and Scholastic have both discovered ways to create nonfiction young readers find irresistible. So what happens? Is it our approach to nonfiction? Is it the lack of interesting nonfiction available as students move up into the older grades? Is it lack of time or inexperience with the genre? Do we not value the nonfiction reading they do (for example, my son enjoyed the informational magazines about gaming when he was in middle school)? So many questions….

    Your post has me thinking…

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