Sunday, March 18, 2012

Getting our students to be "Readers in the Wild"

A week ago today I was sitting in the Devos Center Ballroom listening to Donalyn Miller's keynote address at the Michigan Reading Association conference. Her speech gave me lots to think about in regards to my attitude about why kids don't read anymore once they leave my class.

I mentioned in my Nerdy Book Club guest post that it broke my heart to discover that once kids leave my class, they don't read for pleasure anymore. This is very similar to the thoughts Donalyn shares in The Book Whisperer when she talks about students coming back to visit her once they've left her class and admit they don't read anymore.

In her keynote last weekend she talked about how her attitude about this observation has changed over the years. Rather than getting angry at other teachers not allowing kids to read for pleasure, which she has no control over, she eventually started to ask herself, "What conditions am I creating in my classroom that make students stop reading once they leave my class?"

So she asked us to ask ourselves "Am I creating independent or dependent readers?"

Meaning, once you take away all those conditions in the classroom that allow kids to explore their reading preferences, are they still going to be reliant on the teacher to motivate them to read?

So how do you bridge the gap between a school reader and a "reader in the wild"? These were some of the things she discussed in trying to help create independent readers rather than dependent readers:

  • During reading conferences and class discussions, talk to your students about WHERE they read, not just how much they read.  If you can talk to them about the habits of readers and allow them to see that you really DO have time to read for pleasure, then maybe they will start to develop some of those habits on their own.
  • Readers are always making plans. Lifelong readers are always thinking about their next book. We all know the students in our classes who don't like to read. We get nervous when we notice they're close to finishing a book because we know it will take them many days to find that next book. We should be discussing with our students in reading conferences about what they plan to read once they finish the current book they're reading.
  • Give kids time to discuss and recommend books to each other. As Donalyn said in her keynote, "If I'm the sole source of book recommendations for my kids all year, what happens in May?"

I was so inspired by Donalyn's words that I came back to school on Monday and hit the ground running. I immediately started conferring with kids and discussing with them about the very things Donalyn discussed in her keynote. I made a list for them of all the places I read:
  • As a passenger in the car (even short distances - I always carry a book with me!)
  • In bed before I go to sleep
  • In bed when I wake up (weekends only)
  • In the bathtub (I told them I recognize this is weird, but not that much different than men who treat the bathroom as their personal library! Plus, no one bothers me when I read in the tub!)
  • In waiting rooms
I also shared with them the places where/when I listen to audibooks:
  • In the car
  • Doing/putting away laundry
  • Cooking dinner
  • Getting ready for work in the morning
  • Walking to my class on campus

Then I showed them what I'm currently reading and did a quick book talk on both books (which I was happy to discover many were interested and intrigued by both books) and then I showed them the books I plan to read next. By modeling this process for them, I wanted to show them that as their teacher, I would never ask something of them that I myself wouldn't do.

Because of this modeling and discussion, conferences lasted much longer this week than they have in the past and I was happy to see that most students had at least two books to share with me that they plan to read next. My one concern was that most kids said the same places where they read: "In the car" "Before I go to bed" so I wonder if they REALLY read in those places or if they're just telling me what they think I want to hear. I'm hoping that by continuing this conversation throughout the rest of the school year and not ending it with this one conference session that I can reinforce those "reading in the wild" habits.


  1. Fantastic post, Beth. I really love all that you do to keep your students engaged with reading.

  2. Awesome post - I just found your blog through Allison's link on Reading Everywhere, and I am hooked! As a teacher, I've had the same experience of students leaving my class and then no longer reading for fun. I am taking all of your (and the glorious Donalyn Miller's!) suggestions to heart for use when I return to the classroom.

    PS: I live in Michigan, near Grand Rapids, and confess to snooping around your classroom blog to see where you taught :) I'm not at all familiar with St. Paul's, but I think your classroom blog is outstanding! In particular, I loved the "love letter to a book."