As firmly as I now believe that reading is a social activity, as a young reader I firmly believed in NOT sharing my reading with others. In school, no one “got” why I read what I read, I was frequently teased for always having my nose in a book, and no one really wanted to hear what I thought about what I read. Book reports were delivered to the sounds of crickets (think cartoon silence) and construction paper leaves for a tree or cars for a train lining the classroom walls were written up to prove my progress to a class goal of reading so many books. In high school, when we were finally allowed to “discuss” books, the conversation was very teacher driven and focused on proving we read the book and understood the symbolism. I did not experience a community of readers, who eagerly read, shared and supported each other, until I became a middle school teacher. Not only did I try to foster this type of environment in my classroom (surviving without a classroom library because my school didn't believe in such things) but as I attended my first professional conferences, I connected with other middle school teachers who enthusiastically shared their reading, made significant recommendations for books for my students (and me), and embodied lives of wild readers. In the challenging days of a first year teacher, these wild readers (like Linda Rief who actually wrote me encouraging letters and sent her own students' work) inspired me to “keep calm and read a book” and I continue to advocate for reading time in school, student choice, and, as chapter three details, help my students (both young and adults) to “share books and reading with other readers” (p. 87).
Donalyn quotes Jeff Wilhelm (who is another of my teacher idols) from a conference when he stated, “What's your bottom line? What do you really want to happen for your students? Now, how does what you do every day serve that bottom line?” (p. 89). I've been pondering this lately and I'm reminded of an activity my teacher-husband did with a group of high school students. They were reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teensby Sean Covey and for Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind, my husband asked the students to create and design bumper stickers for their own life motto or mission statement. More recently, Daniel Pink asked the question,“What's your sentence?” So, what is your literacy teaching mission/motto/sentence?
I'm playing with this one:
Donalyn describes many of the negative factors I experienced as a young reader – the demeaning social stereotypes of readers, the limited access to books at school and a school community that didn't support wild reading and social engagement with reading. Yet, even more importantly, Donalyn provides numerous suggestions on how to “foster school and home reading communities” (p. 91) and delineates the “benefits of reading communities” (p. 96). The main idea here is creating a sense of community – developing relationships and habits of mind both in school and at home that center around reading and writing. As I mentioned before, I had supportive reading parents and I learned to cherish the smell of bookshops and libraries and interact with readers outside of school. I wonder how much more would I have engaged in school and enjoyed it, if I didn't have to hide the reader side of my life? I wonder how many other children still feel this way?
Besides many suggestions on how a teacher, classroom and school can create and sustain community connections, Donalyn shows how to help a new teacher embrace a wild reading life. I wept in awe reading Malorie's (a student teacher) initiation into the classroom community of readers. As Donlyn describes, “Watching Malorie talk with two of our students about the book later [The Hunger Games], I realized that Malorie had crossed over. She wasn't a classroom observer anymore. She was part of our reading community with powerful reading experiences and opinions to contribute. Our students respected Malorie's teaching role in our class, but they embraced her because she read alongside us” (p. 106). When I work with teachers, I know the importance of providing not just lip-service to these principles, but a functioning and successful model of a reading/writing workshop. For many teachers, it is the first time they have gotten to choose to read titles of their own selection and discuss something other than guided reading questions. The process of experiencing and envisioning a wild reading and writing classroom is essential in creating wild reading and writing teachers.
I love Banned Book Week because, as Donalyn states “books could be subversive contraband, worth passing back and forth among friends. Books hold secrets that you can share with other[s]” (pp. 108-109). I remember sneaking books from under my mother's bed – they were adult mysteries or horror novels and non-fiction crime stories, yet I felt I was rebelling against the cheesy teen romances that were the rage in my classroom. When Donalyn noticed a secret book her boys were reading, she read it too, but found it held little opportunity to grow as a community. Instead, as she stated, “My role changed from reading advisor to reading policeman” (p. 109). So now, when the secretive book is passed along, she takes note, but doesn't interfere. I wonder, how do other teachers handle banned or controversial books in their classrooms?
I know conferring with readers is a constant struggle for many teachers new to the workshop approach. They ask the same question Donalyn did, “What's the point?” And, most teachers I've met tried checklists, notebooks or post-it notes to keep track of who they conferred with and who they haven't. Donalyn challenges us to think about why we want to confer with readers. In her classroom, it was to “forge relationships with each one [student]” (p. 131). To ensure this happened, Donalyn reflected on her own personal style of conferring and worked with this style, not against it, to create a process that provided consistency, growth, assessment, and evidence. After explaining her process, she also highlights her colleagues variations. The important part is that “conferring with my students is finally meaningful and manageable” (p. 134). I want to copy the last few pages of chapter three and send them to all the workshop teacher I know! It is such a comfort to realize that even master teachers struggle with this practice.
Here's my badge of a wild reader. What does your badge look like?
Chapter 4 - Wild Readers Have Reading Plans
Here's my badge of a wild reader. What does your badge look like?
Clearly, Donalyn is a wild reader. I've followed her on Twitter for a while (@) and love her recommendations. But, beyond having stacks of books and lists of books, wild readers need to have a plan for when and how they are going to read their stacks and lists of books. Goal setting - for time read, amount of pages read, types of books read, or amount of books read - gives wild readers a destination and a challenge to become more widely read wild readers.
In the past few years, I've started my own book blog to become accountable to a public audience and reconnect to my readerly life. On the blog, I tried a few book challenges, such as the Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge sponsored by the Book Vixen; Off the Shelf Book Challenge by Bookish Ardour; or The Big Book Challenge by Book by Book. What challenge might you take up in the next few months?