“Reading in the Wild” by Donalyn Miller

Reading in the Wild

I was not surprised to recognize myself in the pages of “Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits” (2014) by elementary school teacher and author Donalyn Miller, with reading teacher Susan Kelley. I love to read; but aside from reading to my son and buying or borrowing books for him, I haven’t really thought about how I could teach him to love reading too.

“Reading in the Wild” shows me how we can help children love reading, by pinpointing five characteristics of “wild” readers – people who love to read – and showing us habits that encourage reading. Written for teachers, it is based on the belief that “teaching our students to be wild readers is not only possible; it is our ethical responsibility as reading teachers and lifelong readers” (page xxiv).

The authors cite research that shows that children who are readers are more successful in school; have greater opportunities in life; are more likely to succeed in the workforce; and are more likely to vote in elections, volunteer for charities, and support the arts. Students would probably not be persuaded by these arguments – but principals, school districts, and donors might be.

Here are the five characteristics of “wild” readers and just a few strategies to encourage lifelong reading habits in students (and everyone):

1. Wild readers dedicate time to read. Find time to read on the edge-times – between classes, on the way to practice, while waiting, during commercials, in the car or bus. Always carry a book for “reading emergencies.”

2. Wild readers self-select reading material. Set aside time to read aloud in the classroom – this creates shared experiences, exposes students to new authors and genres, supports developing readers, and makes reading enjoyable. Create book buzz about new books by presenting book commercials, reading an excerpt, and/or holding “book drawings” for who gets to read popular books first. Start a “Books to Read” list. Keep a “Reader’s Notebook” with title, author, genre, start and end date, and star rating.

3. Wild readers hare books and reading with other readers. Add book recommendations and home reading tips in school newsletters and on class websites. Create a bulletin board with “I am currently reading…” signs in classrooms. Host a book swap or book drive. Ask students to present “book commercials” about their favorite books.

4. Wild readers have reading plans. Commit to reading with challenge plans such as reading a certain number of books, reading books you never finished, or reading an entire series. Keep a “Books to Read” list. Write down reading plans and check out books.

5. Wild readers show preferences for genres, authors, and topics. Add more nonfiction to book talks and read nonfiction texts aloud. Read at least one book in different genres.

“Reading in the Wild” is easy to read, practical, and inspiring. Though most teachers are not dedicated reading teachers, there are useful tips for incorporating and encouraging reading in daily and weekly lessons. I already use some of these strategies at home with my 8-year old son. There’s a helpful appendix with reading worksheets, surveys, and a list of students’ favorite titles and series.

I am a wild reader. Are you a wild reader too?

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