Wednesday, July 9, 2014

#CyberPD Part I: Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits

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Beginning this week and for the month of July, I'm participating in #CyberPD (online professional development).  A group of educators, like me, will be reading the book, Reading in the Wild:  The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits by Donalyn Miller.  We'll be writing reflections about the book on our blogs, commenting on the blogs of others who are participating, and using Twitter to continue the conversations.  In this first session, I'll be reflecting on Chapters 1 and 2.  This event is hosted by Cathy Mere, Laura Komos, and Michelle Nero.  Thank you, ladies, for hosting this wonderful event.

I've been thinking about what it means to be a "wild" reader a lot lately. As a first grade teacher, I'm working with students who are at the beginning of their reading journeys. I want them to see themselves as readers.  While reading this book, I was looking through the lens of a first grade teacher and asking myself how these ideas might impact my own teaching.

Chapter 1
Wild Readers Dedicate Time to Read

Some Important Considerations:
  • "Students need to connect with other readers and participate in a reading culture that values them. Our students must see themselves as readers, or they will never embrace reading beyond school." (p.  9)
  • "It is difficult for many children to become wild readers if they don't read during the edge times." (wasted moments in between our daily commitments) (p. 13)
  • "Reading a book in one sitting (binge reading) is a rare indulgence, but most wild readers take advantage of the random Saturday or vacation and read books cover to cover." (p. 16)
  • "Most wild readers prefer a relaxing, quiet environment." (p. 23)
  • "Fake reading and reading avoidance commonly occur when students lack independent reading habits, confidence, or adequate reading skills." (p.25)
  • "As teachers, we need to reclaim reflective practices for ourselves and use it as a tool to continually recalibrate our teaching to our core beliefs, determine what is and isn't working, and focus our teaching so we can continue to offer quality instruction that we can reasonably manage and maintain throughout the school year." (p.41)
The impact these ideas have on my teaching:
  • My first graders participate in partner reading time, daily.  They enjoy sharing and discussing books with peers and value this opportunity.
  • I'm always looking for creative ways to encourage my first graders to read outside of the classroom.  Last year, we carried books to read in between our gym and music specials.  We used this "edge time" to read more books.
  • As an adult reader, I enjoy binge reading.  I know that I'm hooked when I continue to think about the characters long after I have finished reading the book.  As a first grader teacher, I might have 1 or 2 binge readers in my classroom each year.  These students tend to read above grade level and have positive reading experiences outside of school.  I can model this behavior for all of my first graders by discussing and reminding them of the characters we know and love from books we've shared as class.
  • All students appreciate a quiet classroom during reading time.  Reading is thinking.  Our reading environment must support the reading and thinking we do all year.
  • I refer to fake-reading as "pretend reading" in my classroom.  I had a student who struggled in this area for most of the school year.  His reading was above grade level.  However, he did not value our reading time and complained of being bored.  It took me months to discover that he was not selecting books he was interested in reading.  Donalyn's warning signs (p. 27) are a helpful reminder of what students do when they are not really reading.  She also shares how to address these behaviors in chapter 1.
  • Reflection is the key to almost everything we do as teachers.  Like many educators, I'm constantly reflecting on my teaching.  Each year I find myself tweaking my teaching practices and classroom routines in an effort to support learners and provide a positive classroom experience for my students.
Chapter 2
Wild Readers Self-Select Reading Material

Some Important Considerations:
  • "When students select their own books to read and enjoy, they develop confidence in their abilities to make reading choices and build their capacity for choosing books in the future." (p. 46)
  • "Read-alouds provide students with support in choosing their own books by increasing their title and author awareness, improving their background knowledge and experience, and fostering increased motivation and engagement with reading through positive reading experiences." (p. 56)
  • "Book drawings are an engaging and fun way to introduce new books to students and encourage risk taking.  Students are more willing to try unfamiliar books when I endorse them and classmates express enthusiasm for reading them.  Even students who don't enter drawings build title and author awareness." (p.58)
  • "The more we know about books and our individual students, the better support we can provide." (p. 64)
  • "Students who regularly choose books that they can't read or don't enjoy are unlikely to read much or find reading personally gratifying.  Exposing students to lots of books and positive reading experiences while building a network of other readers who support each other provides student with tools that last beyond the classroom setting." (p. 70)
  • "Providing students with scaffolded opportunities to preview, evaluate, and choose texts gives them the practice they need in self-selecting books." (p.71)
  • Managing a classroom library requires curation--selecting the best, most current materials for curriculum needs and students' interests." (p. 80)
The impact these ideas have on my teaching:
  • My first graders enjoy choosing their own books to read.  Allowing them to fill their baskets with books of their choice is a huge motivator for reading.
  • Our Read-Aloud time is one of our favorites parts of the school day.  I love the idea of allowing students to select the next read-aloud using book commercials. (p. 54) 
  • We use the "Random Name Generator" on our Interactive White Board to randomly select students who want dibs our the newest additions to our classroom library or the next book in a series that was recently introduced.  It's is fast and effective with my first graders because they know the computer is doing the choosing rather than the teacher. 
  • Getting to know our readers is vital.  I've tried a number of different ways over the years, such as reading surveys and the like.  Last year, when I had a student teacher, I was able to conduct reading interviews with my first graders which provided some helpful information.  It's amazing how well you get to know the readers in your classroom when you talk to students even during informal gatherings like "lunch bunch" celebrations.  It's a matter of noticing, listening, and noting.
  • Making sure that my first graders have books they can read and enjoy is always a challenge.  On any given day I encounter children who are sitting with baskets of books that are too challenging for them to read.  This tends to be especially true of my struggling readers who desire to have a successful reading experience as they build stamina and encounter books they enjoy and connect with.  I'm wondering what would be the best way to approach a first grade friendly "Reading Selection Reflection".  Perhaps this could be accomplished in small groups by creating an anchor chart based on their input.  I'll have to consider this idea further.
  • Occasionally, I create tubs of books for students who need this extra support.  The books are at their reading levels and they do their book shopping out of these prearranged tubs.  They still have choice, however, they are not yet ready to choose books from our entire classroom library.  I have found this support to be quite successful.  Also, I love Donalyn's suggestion to "Unpack your thinking when evaluating a book and share it with students." (p. 71)  This would make a great mini-lesson and one that I need to share with my first graders periodically throughout the school year.
  • Our classroom library is one of those areas that is a work in progress.  I'm constantly working on the best way to arrange books and make them accessible to my first graders.  I also have a bit of a book addiction and I'm always buying new titles to add to our collection.  I love the idea of allowing students to carefully rummage through the books even before you introduce them to how to use the library.  One of my favorite first grade moments was the day I opened two boxes of donated books in front of my first graders and shared the books inside.  It was like Christmas in September.  That was a blast!
As I continue to dig into Reading in the Wild, I have lots to consider as I prepare for a new school year.  There are things that I can identify with because they validate what I'm already doing in my classroom.  There are a few areas that I have moved away from but I may need to "recalibrate" my teaching as it relates to these ideas.  And...some surprises that make me smile as I'm already starting to think about how I might tweak these ideas to engage and support first grade learners.  I can't wait to dig into chapters 3 and 4. 


  1. Valerie,
    I too am a 1st grade teacher and each year work to help my kids see themselves as readers. I love, love, love the idea of reading in the edges and being wild readers. This fits perfectly as see more and more families are allowing sports and other out of school activities take over the time for reading. So this year I am looking for ways to teach my kids how to find the edge time and showing them how readers aren't only binge readers. I want my kids to see reading anytime you can is reading!
    I was really struck by the way you talk about characters in your reading. I am one who refers to the characters as my friends, friends I miss when a book is done. I think I will work a little harder this year to help my kids see this in their reading.
    Thanks for joining the conversation!

    1. Deb,
      Thanks for stopping by. Our first graders would benefit from learning about reading in the edges. I think parents would also benefit from this information. As I read your comments, I'm thinking about how I could add that information to my curriculum night presentation.
      Thanks again!

  2. Val,
    I just wish I could sit around a table with you and discuss this book. I appreciated all of your ideas for shaping wild readers in primary classrooms. Like you my attention was drawn to Donalyn's quote, "we need to reclaim reflective practices for ourselves and use it as a tool to continually recalibrate our teaching to our core beliefs." You've touched on many practices here that can support wild readers. Digging deeper into reasons why students pretend read (perfect for GR1s) is an important reminder. As I move to a new position supporting primary readers across our building, I'm hoping to help dig into this and find ways to support these readers. Love the idea of using the Random Name Generator app for choosing who takes home a read aloud first. The newest book is always a hot item! I'm so glad you are joining the conversation, Val.


    1. Cathy,
      I would love to sit around a table and discuss this book with you, too. I love the word "recalibrate" because I find myself doing this constantly as it relates to my teaching practices. Many of our primary kids are just beginning to see themselves as readers and I look forward to supporting them as they become "wild readers". Thanks for the comments and good luck in your new position.

  3. Val,
    Your discussion of the chapters was amazing! I love how easy it is to follow your thinking and reflection. I love your last paragraph...especially this part:

    "There are things that I can identify with because they validate what I'm already doing in my classroom. There are a few areas that I have moved away from but I may need to "recalibrate" my teaching as it relates to these ideas."

    I feel the same. Recalibration is one of my favorite parts of summer. It's my time to recharge and gather new ideas...and, like you said, feel good about some of the things already going on in my room.

    I haven't used the Random Name Generator on my Smartboard, but it sounds like a great solution for calling on kids randomly. I'm going to try that out!

    Thank you so such a great synthesis of the chapters! I really enjoyed it.


    1. Katy,
      Thank you for your warm comments. My favorite word had been "tweaking" but this year I'm replacing it with "recalibrate" because it really describes what we (teachers) do. Summer is the best time to recalibrate as we prepare for our new kiddos. Reading this book gives me a lot to think about and consider.
      Thanks again for stopping by,

  4. Hi Val,

    I'm trying this again ... First of all, I love that you mentioned that you work with students who are the beginning of their reading journey. What an amazing feeling!

    How did I miss this quote?!? "As teachers, we need to reclaim reflective practices for ourselves and use it as a tool to continually recalibrate our teaching to our core beliefs, determine what is and isn't working, and focus our teaching so we can continue to offer quality instruction that we can reasonably manage and maintain throughout the school year." (p.41) I quickly flipped back to my book and I had not one notation on this page and yet, this is essential in education today! I underlined, highlighted, drew stars and arrows. Thank you for sharing this quote ... This is one of my beliefs (Donalyn just had a better way to say it!).

    I agree so much with your ideas about getting to know your readers. "It's about noticing, listening, and noting." That is so important, especially in first grade. To notice, listen, and note what readers can do, including their behaviors, habits, and preferences.

    I also love the idea of creating buckets of books to help scaffold to independent self-selecting of books. It's so hard to do, again at the first grade level. And in order to do this, you must have a great library! I'm wondering if to help in student reflection, we could change up some of the forms (like the selection reflection) to be more primary friendly. We need to model, encourage and practice reflection in primary too!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and joining in the conversations.

    1. Michelle,
      Thanks for the wonderful comments. As always, this event is so inspiring. The quote you mentioned was the one that stood out the most for me. Reflection is a huge part of what we do as teachers and learners. This book has given be a lot to reflect on and to reconsider.
      I love the idea of changing up some of the forms to make them more primary friendly. Let's put our heads together and see what we can come up with.
      Thanks for stopping by...again. :)

  5. Val,
    Your post was filled with nuggets of wisdom! I love how you included your new thinking along with reflections on what you are already doing in your classroom. It's so important for all of us to continue to reflect and question what we're doing in our classrooms and why we're doing it.

    First grade teachers have a critical role in the development of students' reading lives! It is such an important year in the reading journey of most kids. Your first grade readers are so lucky to have such a thoughtful, book-loving teacher in their corner!

    1. Laura,
      Thank you so much for your wonderful comments. First grade is an important year for the little ones as they begin to see themselves as readers. I'm so fortunate to be a part of this wonderful experience as we build a community of readers in our classroom.
      Thanks for stopping by,

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