Monday, July 21, 2014

#CyberPD Week 3 - Chapter 5 - Know Thyself

     Supposedly, Socrates uttered these words, "Know thyself" but the roots of  wanting to understand the self probably goes back much further.  Why would I bring philosophy into a conversation about literacy?  Well, chapter five is about Wild Readers Showing Preferences for reading - genres, authors, series etc.  To be able to have a preference, one must know thyself.  What do I like/dislike?  Why?  How might this help me select books I enjoy in the future?  How do I need to challenge myself as a reader?

     At the beginning of the chapter, Donalyn reflects on her own preferences, therefore I reflected on mine.  Not only do I have clear preferences, but these preferences are dependent on the role I'm playing and the context I'm in.  I listen to non-fiction business and self-help books before bed to wind-down, but I don't read them. I enjoy a good science fiction book as an escapist read when I need to turn off my own thoughts for awhile. On an airplane, I prefer a realistic fiction book because it is easier to pick up and put down during interruptions and still follow the story. For some light or vacation reading, I'm currently collecting food-themed fiction and mystery books. Every few years I will re-read Anne McCaffrey, L.M. Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott and Sue Bender.  In my professional life, I'm reading about language use, writing, and literacy as a cultural practice.  Resnick (1990) categorizes literacy practices into various purposes: the sacred, the informational, the pleasurable, the persuasive and the personal-familial.  Since we all read/write for different purposes, it would seem reasonable that we would have different preferences in different contexts.  I wonder if my students could create a list like this - not just what titles/authors they prefer, but when and where they prefer to read particular titles/authors/types/genres?

     But, I will admit that I haven't "pushed [myself] to read widely in order to best serve our students" (p. 167) as Donalyn recommends.  There were some young adult titles that I would read summaries and recommendations about, rather than actually read the book.  I greatly depended on the Cooperative Children's Book Center to help me recommend titles of areas I was ignorant about.  Although many children learn the habits of networking to find books they enjoy, we need to be aware of the children who use vague terms like "scary" or "funny" books to describe their preferences.  This is an indication that the child hasn't read widely enough to start defining his/her specific preferences.  Might this relate back to not just personal taste, but reading in a variety of contexts?

     As I was reading, I created what I imagined will be Hints or Guidelines for Teachers about helping students create preferences in reading:
  1. As teachers, we need to help students develop a more sophisticated understandings of genres to include the sub-genres.  As Donalyn highlighted, not all sci-fi books have robots in them.  In fact, one of my favorite sci-fi books is a re-telling of Jane Eyre (Jenna Starborn by  Sharon Shinn). Not all mysteries have a murder. Not all romances are happy.
  2. As teachers, we need to accommodate students' preferences while expanding their reading repertoires and challenging them to explore new styles.  This is a fine line to continue to encourage the text that students like AND introduce the unfamiliar.
  3. As readers, we need to expand our own understanding and acceptance for non-traditional genres.  Styles, genres, and modes of text are changing constantly.  Remember, at one time it was thought that BOOKS would be the downfall of civilization. 
  4. As teachers, we need to expose students to more non-fiction in a variety of contexts.  For many students, non-fiction has been assigned reading or report reading and they have lost the joy of reading to learn information.   We need to make reading non-fiction as commonplace as reading fiction.
  5. As teachers, we need to create and use assessments/reflections that fit our goals for students and our own habits of organization. Over the years I've learned to work with my organizational style rather than against it which ensures that I actually keep records and can see the patterns of engagement of my students.
     Which, by the way, takes us to the last part of the book - the forms. There are almost 40 pages of the various forms that Donalyn and Susan Kelley have used with their students.  This includes all the forms for students' reader's notebooks, student reflection forms, the Wild Reader Survey that formed the basis of this book, plus a list of students' favorite titles and series.  An amazing resource for anyone who is using a workshop approach to teaching reading.

     Why does all this matter? And I'm not just talking about chapter 5, but why think about providing time to read in class and help students develop habits of reading on the edges, guide students to become confident self-selectors of reading materials, share their reading with others, and have reading plans?   Because as Donalyn states so eloquently "By the end of the year, our students have practiced all of the lifelong reading habits in our classrooms, they have reflected on their personal reading behaviors, and they have developed the tools and skills they need to become independent readers without our support. . . Their reading lives belong to them and they don't need us.  They are wild readers now (pp. 192-193)


Resnick, L. B. (1990). Literacy in school and out. Daedalus, 119(2), p. 169-185.


  1. Hi, Suz! Thank you for including Resnick's categorization of literacy practices based on purpose. I don't think I've ever run across that previously. I'd like to read more about it.

    I like how you pointed out on #1 that we need to ensure that our students have a more sophisticated understanding of genre. We have to really dig deep in those genres with our students to make sure that happens. We don't know what misconceptions students have about genres without participating in those types of conversations about what they are reading.

  2. Jill,
    Thank you for reading and commenting. I've just been introduced to Resnick myself, so I'm learning more about it too. Wouldn't it be neat to have students create graffiti walls for each genre that would show the characters and stories from the genre and identify the sub-genres? I'm envisioning what that would look like...

  3. Suz,
    I think it is so important to know thyself as a reader, as you state. I quickly reflected on my likes and dislikes, but your questioning and reflecting went much deeper! I think it would be a great exercise for your students to truly reflect on themselves -- as this will also show those book gaps and areas of challenge to read more. (Perhaps they set a personal goal during the course of the semester to read more of that particular book gap?)

    Your guidelines are helpful! #2 is so important -- we need to keep feeding the reading brain with what students like, but also create a balanced diet by tasting other types of books! As for #4 regarding nonfiction, I believe in elementary school, we are still good with nonfiction being a part of the daily diet of reading. Many students, especially boys, love nonfiction! The true transition to work/fact finding/research nonfiction reading happens in middle school and beyond, as Donalyn discussed. And, Yes! Yes! to #5! I mentioned the same fact -- the assessments/organization of notes needs to work for me!

    Thanks for sharing your insights and participating in #cyberPD! It's been enlightening reading your reflections and you always push my thinking a little more! I look forward to how all these new wild reading ideas shape our classrooms in the fall!

    1. Michelle,

      I do wonder how many adult readers could be explicit about their own reading preferences. As mentioned earlier in the book, many people do not become wild readers until adulthood when they really have freedom of choice. Who do they apprentice themselves to and how do they learn these habits? Like many adults who go back to school, I didn't read for pleasure while taking classes - I had so much class reading and writing that I didn't fit personal reading in. But, when I started to regain my readerly life, I started reading books about books -
      How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines by Thomas C. Foster (there is a kid version now too), The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life by Steve Leveen,
      How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen, and How to Read and Why by Harold Bloom. This gave me insight and motivation to read more and think about how other people think about their reading.


  4. Suz,
    Loved this last line! I think it summed up the book perfectly. It has been obvious you are a wild reader across this event. You know yourself and your preferences. You've given me reason to pause and consider my preferences with a new lens. It's interesting how different we are all as readers. This speaks volumes about the readers in our classrooms!

    I appreciated your tips for teacher-readers. Most of all, I've enjoyed reading your writing as I've stopped by each week. You really make me want to just think of the crafting of reflection. I've learned much at every stop.


    1. Cathy,

      I used to work in a book store (I know, shocking!), and at Christmas time, well-intentioned grandparents would come into the store and ask for a book for their something-year old grandchild. Most wanted titles they recognized -"the classics". I would try to question them further - What does your grandson like? What activities are your granddaughter involved in? To me, picking out a book isn't like buying socks where "one sizes fits most". Picking a book for a gift shows how much I know the person, what might appeal to them. It really is a daunting task! Just because the book is on the recommended reading list doesn't mean it will hook them.

      Thank you for your kind words and commenting. I hope to read more about what goes on in your world.