Donalyn Miller Looks at Lifelong Readers
in Natural Habitat in Latest Release
Accomplished teacher, author, blogger, and avid reader Donalyn Miller has spent years applying the latest literacy research in her Texas classrooms. But now Donalyn is presenting research of her own in her latest book, Reading in the Wild
– due to be released Nov. 4 – about the habits of lifelong readers in the hopes of applying what she learns to students.
“We give a lot of lip service to the idea that we’re creating lifelong readers in the classroom, but we aren’t being intentional about it,” says Donalyn, whose own students consistently read 50 to 60 books a year. “Where’s the list of habits we’re trying to create? How are we instilling them in kids?”
“We cannot overlook the emotional connections avid readers have for books and reading and the lifestyle behaviors that lifelong readers possess. . . . Call it what you will – lifelong, avid, real, wild (my preference) – readers share an innate love of reading. In order to bridge the gap between a school-based definition of readers and a real-world one, we must consider these affective qualities.”
– Donalyn Miller in Reading in the Wild
As Donalyn initially asked herself these questions in terms of creating a culture of reading, she followed them up with a third: “Why don’t we find some adults who are avid readers and ask them what their habits are?” The survey she then created solicited 948 responses from readers all over the world, through which she created some generalizations, as well as designed lesson plans and assessment instruments.
One thing from Donalyn’s research that surprised her was the prominence reading takes in the lives of fellow avid readers, who read as many as 20 hours a week. “I read that much, but it doesn’t occur to me that other people out there are reading that much as well. These people have families and children, but they’re remarkably good at stealing time to read.”
The secret, according to Donalyn, is that lifelong readers keep a book with them at all times, reading in whatever 15-minute blocks they can find – in waiting rooms, on lunch breaks, at bedtime. Parents and teachers need to impart the importance of stealing reading time to children, Donalyn insists.
“Having a book with you becomes a survival tool for you. My husband calls them ‘reading emergencies.’ It helps kids grab those stolen moments,” the author shares. “It was interesting to me how the adults learned how to cram that time into their lives. Readers make plans.”
In each chapter of her book, Donalyn discusses the characteristics she has identified that all wild readers possess: Wild readers dedicate time to read; they self-select reading material; they share books and reading with other readers; they have reading plans; and they show preferences.
Planning your reading is what separates committed readers from binge readers, who fill in free time with whatever reading they can fit in, according to Donalyn. Avid readers “can tell you what books they’re reading right now, and they’ll also tell you what books they want to read next. Readers have an idea of what’s on their radar,” she says.
Lifelong readers share a sense of community, which debunks the myth of reading as a solitary act. On the contrary, “what we’ve found is that reading really is a social activity. Readers have a community, even if that community is one other person who could talk to him about reading, who could make a book recommendation, who is in a book club,” Donalyn shares.
“It wasn’t necessarily that they were always reading the same thing,” continues Donalyn, a fifth-grade teacher at O.A. Peterson Elementary in Fort Worth, Texas. “But if they were, that shared reading helped both people have deeper understanding of the reading.”
“The most effective reading teachers are teachers who read. . . . Teachers who read are better equipped to build successful reading communities in their classrooms and connect their students with reading and books.”
– Donalyn Miller in Reading in the Wild
That finding is true in the life of Donalyn, who belongs to a book club for adults. Sometimes she must read books she doesn’t necessarily like, “but there are many times after a meeting when I walk away with a greater appreciation of a book because of what it means to other people. We can apply that to children too,” she says.
According to her research, testimonials from peers carry more weight than any other form of book promotion, making children who lack a reading community vulnerable. “If I’m the only person in my student’s life from whom they can get a book recommendation and it’s April, and they’re leaving me in May, that’s not good,” she insists.
One way Donalyn tries to create a sense of community among her students is by seating children who share an appreciation of certain genres at the same table. “I must help build relationships among my students as readers so I’m building a community that’s sustainable from year to year,” Donalyn says. “If I have two kids who like fantasy, why not put them at a table together? Or you may have a student who likes fantasy but hasn’t read it widely. Why not put him at a table with other fantasy lovers?” Donalyn’s students also share their favorite reads through an online school community.
For Donalyn, it’s all about creating a culture of literacy. “People ask me what I do with the kids in my classroom who aren’t reading. But they don’t get it,” she says. “When you have a classroom that’s built around literacy, students want to be a part of that. You raise the standard for everyone, and they’re all going to come up as they become a part of that culture.”
Donalyn Miller has worked with a wide variety of upper elementary and middle school students and currently teaches fifth grade at O.A. Peterson Elementary in Fort Worth, Texas. In her popular book,
The Book Whisperer, Donalyn reflects on her journey to become a reading teacher and describes how she inspires and motivates her middle school students to read 40 or more books a year. In her latest book,
Reading in the Wild, Donalyn collects responses from 900 adult readers and uses this information to teach lifelong reading habits to her students. Donalyn currently facilitates the community blog,
The Nerdy Book Club and has been a frequent contributor to
Reader Leader. Her articles about teaching and reading have appeared in publications such as
The Reading Teacher, Educational Leadership, and The Washington Post. To order the book, click here.