As much as I love #CyberPD, I kind of think that by selecting this book, the choir is being preached to. Based on my experience in past years with #CyberPD, I think that most of the teachers and educators joining us will be singing, “Alleluia” as they read Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild as it confirms, validates, and supports many of the practices that we know are good for kids. And not in the “raise test scores” kind of good, but good in the way that helps students become life-long readers. As Donalyn states early in the Introduction, this is not a program to be implemented, but a way of thinking about how life-long readers and writers integrate reading and writing into their lives and then applying those principles to the classroom to help students develop the habits of life-long readers.
With all the current tension surrounding the implementation of Common Core, and in many states, the newly minted Smarter Balanced Assessment System, I found it interesting that Donalyn returned to the 1996 NAEP report for this quote, “Students must no only develop the ability to comprehend what they read, but also develop an orientation to literacy that leads to life-long reading and learning.” I don't know about your own school districts, but around me it seems like we are moving further away from this ideal – to not only create students who can demonstrate the skills of reading, but inspire students to actually want to read and write outside of school and develop positive dispositions towards engaging in literacy for their own purposes. Or, as Donalyn writes, to foster "their capacity to lead literate lives.” (p. xx) Wouldn't that be an amazing part of any school's mission statement?
Donalyn reminds us, “living a reading life requires some commitment” (p. 2) and highlights that too often, students have to wait until adulthood to create a readerly life because many literacy classrooms focus on skills and strategies, rather than the full experience of becoming a reader. I enjoyed reviewing the Classroom Non-Negotiables: 1) Provide time to read and write 2) Give choice to students 3) Provide multiple opportunities to respond to reading 4) Create a community around literacy and 5) Create structures to support students and teachers to learn more and assess their work together. Although these non-negotiables are very familiar (I was an early adopter of Atwell's workshop approach), it is good to be reminded of the essence of classrooms that foster the habits of life-long readers. These habits are so essential because those who become life-long readers are “readers who incorporate reading into their personal identities to the degree that it weaves into their lives along with everything else that interests them” (p. 3).
Managing time is one of the biggest factors in determining if one will become a life-long reader. With so many requirements, responsibilities and distractions, it is easy for reading to be pushed aside for other things. Chapter 1 focuses on how we can “practice living like readers” (p. 9) by snatching reading time on the edges (the multiple few minutes of time spent waiting that inevitable happens) and getting into the habit of always having book available for “reading emergencies” (p. 14). Lately I have gotten into the habit of downloading books to my smartphone. I have been amazed at how much more reading I've been doing just because I always have a book with me. Like many of Donalyn's students (and my own), I have been under the false assumption that I need to have long stretches of time to really be reading, but the 3 minutes here and 10 minutes there allows me to savor a book as I have time to mull over sections, rather than racing through the book. However, I do have to admit that I am a horrible binge reader and will, at times, stay up for hours reading. And again, now with having books on my smartphone, I don't have to turn on the lights and bother other people, so I sneak in a lot more midnight reading.
Self-selecting books is essential to developing life-long reading habits, and Chapter 2 reviews how readers learn to select books through multiple networks, community conversations, and read alouds. I was fortune to grow up in a household that a trip to a used bookstore was common and it was expected that each of us would leave the store with multiple books. My parents never censored my reading, though they were well aware of my choices and available to discuss things with me. Most of the books that I have learned to hate are those that I was assigned to read and dissect. I hated it when teachers told me, “Don't read ahead!” If it really was a good book, I couldn't help myself!
I have really enjoyed how Donalyn has incorporated the research behind each of her recommendations, provided teaching anecdotes to show life in a real classroom, and given us access to all her handouts and forms. She has really opened both her classroom and her thinking to us - showing how she thinks through planning a literacy block, takes notes on students' work, and even how to spot students who are fake reading. Although many of the ideas are not new to me, I'm learning new ways to demonstrate to other teachers how to make the transition to independent reading or reading/writing workshop less daunting. She has even illustrated how to create and maintain a solid classroom library. I wish I had this book when I started teaching!!!!!!!!