Friday, November 08, 2013


A Year of Reading is VERY excited about the release of Donalyn Miller's new book, Reading in the Wild!  When we fell in love with The Book Whisperer, we had never met Donalyn, but we knew that if we ever did, we would be great friends. She believed all that we believed about kids and books and reading.  We were part of her original fan club and we quoted her words everywhere!

Now, almost 5 years later, we do know Donalyn!  We have both worked with her and laughed with her.  She is a colleague and friend and we both feel so very lucky to know this brilliant teacher.  We have learned so much from her and we continue to learn from her every time we hear her speak, read her writing, or have a conversation with her. And how fun to have the chance to get a sneak peek at this very important new book and to be part of the kickoff blog tour for her new book!  

This new book adds to everything Donalyn taught us in her first book. This new book takes a look at the ways in which we, as teachers, can build lifelong readers. Donalyn is clear that if we really do want to build lifelong readers, we have to spend time on those in classrooms.  We have to be as thoughtful and strategic in our teaching to build lifelong reading habits as we are about our teaching of other skills and strategies. Such important work:-)

Donalyn has been on tour all week!  You can follow the tour at the following locations:

November 4 The Goddess of YA Literature
November 5 Mr. Schu Reads
November 6 Librarian's Quest
November 7 Nerdy Book Club (Katherine Sokolowski)
November 8 HERE!
November 9 Teach Mentor Texts
November 10 Sharpread

FRANKI: What are you most excited about in sharing your newest thinking in Reading In the Wild?  

DONALYN:  My colleague, Susan Kelley, and I surveyed hundreds of readers—both adults and children. Their observations about reading are scattered throughout Reading in the Wild. It is fascinating to read the similarities in reading experiences no matter their age or background. Looking at these commonalities, Susie and I were able to identify several habits that could be modeled and taught. Becoming a reader isn’t random or predicted at birth—we develop these traits over a lifetime. It’s exciting to see how we can intentionally foster students’ independent reading self-efficacy and engagement.

FRANKI:  Has your thinking changed at all since you wrote The Book Whisperer?

DONALYN: Since I wrote The Book Whisperer, I am less critical of other teachers. I have a deeper understanding of the role that school and district administration plays in creating shortsighted policies and structures like schedules that don’t allow for independent reading time, school library closures, lack of funding for books and professional development, and over-emphasis on test prep and scripted programs—these school-wide factors hinder students’ literacy development and are beyond one teacher’s control.

FRANKI: Tell us a bit about the title, “In the Wild”. Where did that come from?

DONALYN:  There is a disconnect between many students’ school and home reading lives. While students must master the ability to read and comprehend text, reading as a lifelong habit involves much more than a list of skills. Readers “in the wild” possess attitudes and behaviors that are not always supported or appreciated in a school setting. The conditions that we know encourage students’ reading engagement and self-efficacy—choice in reading material, access to books, significant daily reading time—these conditions are often controlled or defined at school. Reading at school is often reading in captivity, and many students never develop the ability to read avidly away from school.

FRANKi:  You’ve changed grade levels a bit in the last few years. How has that influenced your teaching? 

DONALYN:  Moving from middle school to elementary school two years ago, I learned that younger students need more shared reading experiences to become engaged with reading. I increased read alouds and developed a reading buddy relationship with a first grade classroom. There is also a difference in the types of books my elementary students like to read. Students are reading more nonfiction and realistic fiction text than my middle schoolers chose to read. I don’t have dystopian romances in the classroom library these days! Overall, the basic structures and goals for our class haven’t changed—students need to spend the majority of class time reading, writing, and talking about reading and writing.

FRANKI:  What are the things that remain the same in the teaching of reading and which things have you had to rethink with different age groups/teaching positions?

DONALYN:  I am teaching fifth grade language arts and social studies this year. Our social studies course is American History, so I enjoy finding ways to integrate reading, writing, and social studies when there is a natural fit. I have more students working on basic reading skills than I did in middle school, so my small group instruction looks different. I try to keep my small groups small (no more than three students) and focused (addressing one skill or concept at a time), but I need more groups to meet the needs of all of my students.

FRANKI: You make some great points about habits of readers being as important as skills and strategies. How do you make sure to keep that true in the day-to-day work of the classroom?

DONALYN:  I confer with students about their independent reading habits on a regular basis and build into my lesson plans intentional opportunities to teach, model, and practice independent reading habits. I explicitly show students how the reading skills and habits we discuss in class help them as readers over the long term.

FRANKI:  How do you manage to read as much as you do while still teaching full time, writing, and being a wife and mom?

DONALYN:  I carry a book with me everywhere I go and steal reading time whenever I can get it. I read a lot when I am traveling—reading on planes and in airports. I read before I go to bed at night. I read a staggering amount during school vacations.

FRANKI: Who have been your biggest influences when it comes to your work with children?

DONALYN:  My early influences were my professors in the Reading Department at the University of North Texas—Dr. Jeanne Cobb and Dr. Alex Leavell. They introduced me to reading and writing workshop and children’s literature. When I became a teacher, my principal, Dr. Ron Myers and my mentor, Susan Kelley, helped me connect the pedagogy I learned in school with practical classroom routines. Professional writers like Janet Allen, Nancie Atwell, Irene Fountas, and Ellin Keene expanded my understanding of good teaching practices and the importance of observing and listening to my students. These days, I am influenced by Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Debbie Miller, and Teri Lesesne. I still have a lot to learn about being a good teacher! 

FRANKI:  What are you thinking about now that this book is behind you?

DONALYN:  I gave myself permission not to jump into another project right away, but I am working on something with a few friends… I am not ready to talk about it much because we are still planning it. I can tell you that it is about reading and teaching!

Thank you, Donalyn!!

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