Monday, November 9, 2015

#D100BloggerPD: Reading in the Wild: Introduction

Welcome to the blog book study of Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild! This study is being put on by some members of Berwyn South School District 100 in Berwyn, Illinois. Our district, located outside of Chicago, Illinois, has 8 schools K-8 and the bloggers in this study, 11 in total, consist of classroom teachers, reading specialists, literacy coaches, and administration members. It's a great group of people who love learning and blogging-and for this reason, we are members of the #D100bloggerPD crew! This hashtag captivates our desire to join up with other teachers in our district to "take to our blogs" to share our knowledge with the world. But this blog study has one more specific focus in mind- and that is reading! Our love of all things reading is what has brought us #D100bloggerPD members together for this inaugural D100 blog book study!

As you can see, the mentor text for this blog book study is Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild. Right now, you are either thinking- "Oh yes, I just loved The Book Whisperer!"  or "Who is Donalyn Miller?" Well, if you are thinking the latter, I am so glad you're here! Donalyn Miller is an absolutely inspirational vision of reading leadership and insight- and as a young teacher, her book The Book Whisperer shaped me as a teacher and a person. It is, hands down, one of my most favorite "teacher books" and is a go-to recommendation for any person who teaches reading to add to their list. It's not just something reading teachers or reading specialists should read. It's a book that any person who comes in contact with any type of reading in any form should read. Yep, that's everyone. Seriously. Get it. Read it. Now.

If you have read Donalyn's first book or you just know of how awesome she is, then you are definitely in the right place as we take on her book Reading in the Wild for this blog book study. I have been wanting to read this book for quite some time now (it was released in 2014) and after participating in a fantastic blog book study over the summer of 2015- with Jennifer Serravallo's The Reading Strategies Book (check out the posts in my blog!) I knew I wanted to bring that concept to my district and it was clear that this would be the perfect book for that task.
In the fall, I met Donalyn Miller at the 2015 Illinois Reading Council Conference.
It was a fantastic moment, for sure!

If you aren't sure about how a Blog Book Study works, check out my preview post here to get a quick idea of how the book study came together, how it will work, and what to expect. Basically, each member of the #D100bloggerPD crew will post a reflection on her blog from either a chapter or vignette from the book Reading in the Wild. You'll be able to follow along because at the end of each post there will be a link to the next post in the study. If you want a heads up of what's to come, check out this fantastic schedule:

As you can see, I am beginning and ending the book study- which leads me to the task at hand today- reflecting on the Introduction and opening vignette "Life, The Universe, and Everything" from, obviously, Reading in the Wild. I'll begin with the Introduction.

As if I was looking for (yet another) reason as to why I chose this book for the book study- the opening paragraph validated me once again. Donalyn Miller, when lamenting on the reasons her carefully cultivated wild readers from her class did not stay wild readers in middle school, very honestly says, "I blamed upper-level teachers and schools when my former students lost their reading motivation." (Introduction, page xvii). I instantly connected to this because, in my eight years of teaching, I spent the first six as a middle school reading teacher and the most current two as a reading specialist at an elementary school- not having changed districts so I was able to witness this statement from both sides of the coin. It's a sad but true realization that she is absolutely correct. Teachers do blame each other.

This is both heartbreaking and incredibly unjustified all at the same time. First and foremost, teaching is hard. It's flat out difficult and if we, as teachers, do not stick together, then who can we rely on in this world? We must stop the blame game of middle school teachers thinking elementary teachers did not prepare them and high school teachers thinking the same of middle school teachers. There is always another side that we cannot immediately see- and I'd love if the culture of education (both internal and outside perspectives) would take a moment to gather the whole story before jumping to conclusions about the shortcomings of any one piece of a child's education. But secondly, and more to the point Donalyn Miller was trying to make, is that perhaps maybe we need to rethink the things we are most sure of in our classrooms. She goes on to say that, "If my students were truly independent readers, why did they still need a teacher to orchestrate their reading lives?" (Introduction, page xviii). Looking inward like that as a teacher is incredible and vulnerable. It's hard for teachers (read: humans) to step back and evaluate themselves. However, without personal reflection and evaluation, how are we to grow? And that question, of personal growth and ultimately the growth of wild readers, is the spring board for this amazing book.

As you can see in this quote, from Introduction page xviii, it explains perfectly the need for teachers to provide students with the necessary
tools to be successful. We must help our students to become self advocates of their reading (and ultimately their learning) if we expect them to be in control of their reading lives. If our students can only be successful while we hold their hands, what happens when they must let go and walk alone? I (and I can't think of another teacher who would disagree with me) want to prepare them for those moments when they will be faced with reading choices and I am not there next to them. This is a serious responsibility for a teacher- yet anyone who wants to create their own "wild" readers must take on the task and try their very best to accomplish this. 
There is a point that is very clear that Donalyn Miller wants us to understand from reading this introduction- and that is that the only true way to become a better reader is to read. And read. And read. And read some more.

If you've read The Book Whisperer, you got that message- and if you're at the beginning of this Reading in the Wild, you're beginning to understand that Miller's fundamental philosophy is the rooted in the fact that reading is they key to reading. Yes, read that again. Reading is the key to reading. It's not about tricks or arts and crafts. It's not about state tests or gimmicks. It's about reading. As you can see from this quote, from Introduction page xix, lifelong reading habits are not made just by teaching reading skills. We must also instill in our students a reading lifestyle. We have to teach them that reading is more than just the words on the page or the means to an end like a test or assignment. Reading exists for purposes other than answering "right there" questions on homework and we must teach students this value the same as we teach them character motivations. 

Those of us who love reading know that reading, quite simply, makes our lives better. We know this to be true because we know the feeling we get when we finish a book, the emotions we share with a character, and even the void we feel when we haven't picked up a book in far too long to admit.
What I love about the introduction to this book, though, is that Donalyn Miller proves to us that readers are overall better members of society. She provides us with studies that prove readers are more likely to be academically and economically successful, have access to better job prospects, are better in the workforce,  and are stronger socially.  Obviously, then it seems, that this quote to the left is spot on. Reading is valuable. It's that simple.                               So now that we know how important turning our students into lifelong (wild!) readers is, Miller gives us "five general characteristics" that she and Susan Kelly (a contributor to this book) found to be the key traits that all wild readers possess. This list of traits, which is found in the Introduction pages xxiii and xxiv, is literally a game-changer for how we teach reading. If we use these traits as our starting point and aim to create readers who possess these traits, rather than the ability to identify the setting in isolation, we will finally make forward progress toward the goal of creating lifelong readers. Here's what they found are the five important traits- "Lifelong readers: (1) Dedicate time to read (2) Self-select reading material (3) Share books and reading with other readers (4) Have reading plans and (5) Show preferences for genres, authors, and topics." (Introduction pages xxiii-xxiv). These five traits are further explained in the book as they are the topic for each of the five chapters. You'll learn more about them as you follow along with the blog study.

 Obviously, each of these traits are explained further in the text- which is a fantastic reason to stay tuned for the rest of the book study! But even now, if you consider yourself a reader, doesn't this make perfect sense so far? I know it does for me. I can think about people who I consider to be "wild readers" and each of those traits apply to them. I can also think about myself and how, with two toddlers ages 4 and 2.5, I'd love to be able to say I follow trait 1- dedicate time to read- more faithfully- but I keep making excuses to why I can't. Things like making dinner, cleaning the house, the ever-elusive potty training are barricades to my reading time- but I must be honest with myself here. If I am truly not dedicating time to read even with those obstacles, can I truly consider myself a lifelong wild reader? I'd like to think I am, but again, self reflection needs to be honest, and I can't always say I exemplify all five of those traits at any given time.

So if it's difficult for me- it's going to be difficult for my students. That's where this book comes in to save the day and help us with that task.  I love this quote on the right here. My love exists for two reasons- (1) That the phrase 'ethical responsibility' makes my job feel so powerful and amazing- which it is but I sometimes forget under piles of stress but also (2) That somehow Donalyn Miller believes that this great task is possible- and therefore, so do I.
Moving on the vignette "Life, the Universe, and Everything", I love this personal window that Donalyn Miller opens up for the reader into her life at home. Miller explains how her "path to understanding reading habits began at home" and she walks us through the lives of the readers in her household. She tells of her husband and his reading habits, her daughter and her unique reading habits, as well as the students in her classroom. This is very true to these vignettes in the book- they offer a real world glimpse into a certain topic- in this case examining reading lives and their importance.

Each vignette is very short- 5-8 pages max- and for me, when I read them, I felt refreshed and energized. This vignette solidifies the point that we must teach students to truly become readers. They need to personally identify as a reader if they are to continue reading into their adult lives. I also love that Miller reflects on the "activities" that teachers make students complete after reading- things like crossword puzzles and dioramas- in which she hopes "teachers might realize that instead of encouraging students to read, these mindless assignments make kids hate reading." (Page 3). I absolutely love this- partly because I am guilty of having done these activities in my early career (and yes, am willing to admit it for the sake of growth) but mostly because she is coming full speed at these "cheap" ways of teaching reading and flat out demanding that we teach reading in an authentic way. And if you were worried about how to do that- that's what the rest of the book is for! 

Next up, on Wednesday 11/11, is Colleen with her reflection on Chapter 1: Wild Readers Dedicate Time to Read. Be sure to check out her post at Literacy Loving Gals and don't forget to keep up with the entire blog book study by tracking #D100bloggerPD on Twitter or Instagram or following the schedules posted above.

Also, you can always check back here- as I will be linking each reflection as they are posted on the blogs.

Miss G Does 5th with Vignette: Creating a Workshop Schedule that Works for You
Courtney O'Connor Guest Blogging on Literacy Loving Gals with Chapter 2: Wild Readers Self-Select Reading Material 
Social Justice Superheroes with Vignette: Curating a Classroom Library
Responsive Literacy with Chapter 3: Wild Readers Share Books with Other Readers
Pershing Principal Blog with Vignette: Conferring: What's the Point?
That Literacy Lady with Chapter 4: Wild Readers Have Reading Plans
The Bazz Blog with Vignette: Building a Personal Canon
Reading is Thinking with Chapter 5: Wild Readers Show Preferences
Reading and Owl of the Above with Vignette: CODA

Please don't hesitate to leave your comments or questions below- I'd love to hear from you. 
Thanks for reading. 
Want to follow along with us in this study? Grab your own copy of Reading in the Wild!


  1. Wonderful kickoff to launch the #D100bloggerPD, Krisitn! :)
    Literacy Loving Gals

    1. Thanks!! Can't wait to read your post on Wednesday!!

  2. Looks great Kristin! So excited it's finally time! Can't wait to continue hearing from all the fabulous D100 ladies! #D100bloggerPD

    1. Thanks! This is going to be amazing, for sure!

  3. I liked the part on page xx of the introduction when she referenced some research from Oxford University about how if s person is a good reader they are more likely to get a "good" job (managerial or professional) later in life.

    The following quote especially made me reflect: "According to our results there is something special about reading for pleasure. The positive associations of reading for pleasure aren't replicated in any other extra-curricular activity, regardless of our expectations" (University of Oxford, 2011).

    A thought I wrote in the margin of my book, related to these two conclusions from Mark Taylor's research at Oxford, talked about how reading shows us possibilities of the world. We then create our own dreams for what's possible for our future. I feel reading enables us to create real desires and goals for ourselves and our world based on the characters, different settings, and facts we read about in books.