Lessons Learned from Donalyn Miller’s READING IN THE WILD

reading-in-the-wildReading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits is Donalyn Miller’s terrific new book. By examining the habits of “wild readers,” adults who read constantly, Donalyn discerns numerous habits and practices that can be fostered in student readers.

I was already on board for what I expected to find in Reading in the Wild. My students read each day for ten minutes. We have various accountability measures in place that promote more reading. We share our reading experiences in a variety of ways. Donalyn’s insightful stories and advice reinforce those practices and articulate compelling rationales for why we must provide reading time in school if we expect students to read outside of school. Reading all of that is wonderful, but it didn’t surprise me.

What grabbed me was the number of fresh ideas Reading in the Wild provided that I can apply directly to my classroom right now. Donalyn teaches fifth grade; I teach senior high. Some of the ideas need to be adapted a little bit, but as Teri Lesesne says in the foreword, “The research is solid. The implementation is flexible.” As I went through Reading in the Wild, I started bending down page corners whenever I came across new ideas that will improve my understanding about student readers and my approaches to helping them develop into wild readers.

Here we go.

Most students do most of their reading at school. The notion that reading in a classroom alongside thirty other living breathing humans is easier than trying to find a time and place to read at home struck me as out of balance. Wouldn’t it be nice if students’ home lives could somehow also be made more conducive to reading?

A few, very few, students use independent reading time for fake reading. Donalyn provides specific strategies for recognizing and dealing with those students. Her approaches are based on determining the reasons behind the fake reading and moving students toward authentic reading.

Status of the Class reports provide an easy way for students to briefly describe their current books, as well as their progress and reactions. Teachers can learn a lot about each reader in a short time from these quick updates.

Donalyn recommends using the rule of thirds for how to divide a class period, regardless of its length: one-third independent reading, one-third direct instruction and guided practice, one-third independent practice. Our class periods are fifty minutes long. We read for ten minutes. I’m a little under the one-third rule, but ten minutes seems about right for our classes and students. I need to think about this some more, but it tells me that ten minutes is a minimum and cannot shrink.

When students ask, “What should I read next?” give them preview stacks rather than one-title recommendations. This provides students with practice in choosing books, one of the habits of adult wild readers.

“Children must receive constant encouragement for reading. It takes more than one classroom with one teacher for one year” (90). One of my current dilemmas involves second-semester seniors. In January I will begin teaching three new sections of second-semester seniors. Should I do independent reading with them? I know from past experience that the vast majority of them do not read books of their own choosing outside of school. When I ask them how many books they have read on their own in the past year, the most common number will be zero. These are kids who came through elementary school when their district was using Accelerated Reader, and many of them are unmotivated readers inexperienced with actual books. Is it pointless to try to make them wild readers in their last semester of high school when their focus is elsewhere? If the statement at the beginning of this paragraph is true, and I believe it is, am I wasting time doing independent reading with these students? I really need to think this through.

imageMany of my colleagues use “currently reading” signs. Donalyn suggests that students also make similar signs for their lockers.

Donalyn recommends Reading Graffiti! Let’s transform a bulletin board into a place to scrawl favorite sentences from books!

I generally avoid reading YA books that are parts of series. I have the attention span of a flea, so I like to jump around in my reading. The idea of reading several books with the same characters and one long plot line does not appeal to me. But some students love them. Donalyn articulates the appeal and value of series books.

In the section on graphic novels, Donalyn (via Terry Thompson) makes an excellent point about vocabulary. In solid text, students might skip a hard word, but in graphic novels they see the word in a visual context.

Donalyn recommends this nice touch on handouts or forms we produce: Instead of putting Name with a long blank after it for students to write their names, use Reader or Writer. This can easily be adapted to all kinds of situations: Experimenter, Blogger, Expert. Never again will I simply add Name.

Donalyn Miller inspires me and many other teachers on a daily basis. That inspiration continues after gleaning these specific ideas from Reading in the Wild. I’m eager to use them with young readers right away. When you delve into Reading in the Wild, you will also find ideas that support your work and ideas that will transform your practice.  (Your list of ideas may be completely different from mine, and that’s good!)

Thank you for reading this. And thanks for any advice about those second-semester seniors!

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8 Responses to Lessons Learned from Donalyn Miller’s READING IN THE WILD

  1. gstevens1021 says:

    Thanks for the insightful review, Gary. I just received my copy of Donalyn’s book yesterday and can’t wait to dig in. I, too, have a short class period (47 minutes) and I devote the first 10 minutes to independent reading (though many question my judgment on this one). I believe it is the absolute minimum I can do to provide support for independent reading. If we as English teachers don’t provide reading time, who will? I would encourage you to keep trying with your second semester seniors. My own daughter didn’t discover her love for reading until her senior year when she found “that book” that made the difference for her.

    Thanks again for your insights and for sharing your work with us.


  2. Glenda Funk says:

    You know I teach seniors. No, you are not wasting your time pushing those second semester seniors to read–even if they’ll only read MS level books, but I suggest nonfiction. I have had some wonderful experiences watching these kids grow into readers, if only for a little while. They need the posh. Who knows how it will impact them later in life.


  3. Thanks for this review! I’m anxious to get a copy, but I’m probably going to wait until NCTE so I can try to get it signed.

    I’m glad there are new strategies and ideas for those who have already bought into the ideas of reading in class. I’m excited to work to adapt these ideas for my classes moving forward. Thanks, again!


  4. Great, great review, Gary. I’m about halfway through Reading in the Wild and plan to post on why adults need to become wild readers, no matter what they do or how busy they are!


  5. Ken C. says:

    Thanks to this review, I’m putting Donalyn’s book on my radar. It’s especially impressive that she can find new turf to break considering the number of books on the market re: promoting independent reading. Only I wonder what the hashtag #ONreading means. Is it just “on” (as in “about”) reading? Is so, Occam’s Razor strikes again!


  6. Jennifer says:

    Hi! Thank you so much for your ideas. I was wondering what you meant when you said “When a student asks what they should read next, I give them a preview stack”…..what is a preview stack? I tend to rattle off titles or hand them a book….I would rather they take the time to explore…. – Thank you – JEnnifer


  7. Thank you for this post. I am currently reading The Book Whisperer, and as I read, I’m thinking “Yeah, but . . . ” because I teach high school English. I googled “donalyn miller high school implementation” and found your blog post. Your ideas are very helpful, and I plan to order Reading in the Wild as soon as I click “post comment.”


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