Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Reading in the Wild, Ch. 5

This week, the teachers of #cyberPD are reading and discussing Chapter 5 and the Appendices of Donalyn Miller and Susan Kelley's Reading in the Wild. You can read my thoughts about Chapters 3-4 here. This #cyberPD is being hosted by Cathy Mere of Reflect and Refine, Laura Komos of Ruminate and Invigorate, and Michelle Nero of Literacy Learning Zone.

"After all, most wild readers ... certainly don't build dioramas ..." (pg. 100)
But sometimes we do! I had a sudden urge to rekindle my diorama-building skills
and to share a book reflection diorama-style too.

Chapter 5 and Appendices of Reading in the Wild

Chapter 5, Wild Readers Show Preferences, could easily have been titled All Readers Show Preferences. I have found that those who often do not think of themselves as readers tend to have the strongest preferences at all and be the most resistant to stretching themselves or trying different books and genres.

The chapter lays out some of the types of preferences common to the authors' middle school students, along with specific student examples for each one. I especially appreciated the aside about the reading benefits of both graphic novels and rereading favorite books. I think both of these behaviors can be misinterpreted, especially by parents who wonder when their child is going to stop reading graphic novels and start reading "real" books.

I really enjoyed the kid-driven perspective of the section on "Genre Avoidance," especially the characterization of nonfiction as "all about dead presidents and whales" (Ashley, pg. 178). I agree that this perception is less common in elementary school and middle grade classrooms, especially as my students are commonly introduced to nonfiction books in many of their classes, including subjects like Math Adventure and Science and Literature. I love being able to rely on the public library to borrow big stacks of relevant nonfiction books for each of our continent-based Social Studies units, which also keeps the books fresh as they rotate in-and-out through the year.

The final piece of the book gets back to the nitty-gritty of conferring and all of the example forms provided in the Appendices. (Have I mentioned how much the organized part of me loves forms?) I appreciated the insights into the specific categories used on the Reading Habits Conference Chart and plan to incorporate some of these into my own conferring forms. I also like the inclusion of the "rate this book" with five empty stars for when students finish a book. I think this would be a great, reflective addition to student read book lists.

Question for Discussion

  • Do you use a specific book challenge with your students?
I was personally perplexed by the fact that the following sentence - "We should never compare book tallies between children or create competitive conditions among them" (pg. 186) - was followed four pages later by a brief discussion of the 40 Book Challenge from The Book Whisperer. How is having students track their reading by genre with the stated goal of reading 40 books during the course of the year not both a book tally and a competition? Even if you do not publicize student progress on a bulletin board in the room, it hardly sounds like the type of information students would be likely to keep to themselves. I am very curious about the experiences of other teachers with these types of challenges.

20 comments:

  1. WOW--"I have found that those who often do not think of themselves as readers tend to have the strongest preferences at all and be the most resistant to stretching themselves or trying different books and genres." Hadn't thought of it that way, but you're right on the money! So true!

    I understand your confusion with the juxtaposition of the challenge and not-a-competition ideas. I have run into this type of problem frequently. We want students to know where they are, yet we struggle with how to keep it from becoming a source of hurt feelings. Unfortunately I'm not sure how to solve that. I'm open to suggestions!

    You pointed out the graphic novels and rereading favorite books. Both of Donalyn's points on those two hit home with me. I also wrote about it on my own blog post today (motivated2read.blogspot.com).

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    1. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, Jill. I am definitely seeking input about the encouragement/challenge nature of specific book counts. I think I will go forward with encouraging different genres and variation but maybe without the specific # as an end goal.

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  2. I am going to make better use of my public library! I have done it a bit in the past, but I need to get more serious about it since I now have 2 children to feed instead of just feeding my book obsession. :)

    Challenge versus competition: I think this is a great question to as Donalyn during the Twitter chat next week! I suppose it would need to be preceded by a conversation about "personal best" and "personal goals" in September. As Jill said, there could be hurt feelings that would just serve to discourage someone who is already a discouraged reader. When I hand out report cards I tell the students that it is private business and they should adopt a "don't ask, don't tell" attitude about their marks. Maybe that would work? Not sure. Depends on the class dynamic I guess. Maybe setting shorter goals (monthly goals for example) and trying to improve in little chunks would help make it a personal challenge instead of a class competition.

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    1. Thanks for sharing and really engaging with the issue! In past years, I have had students do quarterly reading goals and those never gained a competitive aspect (they were all so diverse - few involved specific numbers), so maybe bringing personal goals down to a shorter time frame is the answer. I look forward to seeing how this conversation evolves next week!

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  3. I didn't write at all about the Reading Habits Conference materials today, but I'm definitely planning to use those next semester. I also love all the forms and charts! Used several in my course last semester and found them quite useful (and since I teach pre-service teachers, they also loved the charts & forms!). You raise a great question about genre requirements and the 40 book challenge. I personally enjoy challenging myself to read a certain number of books each year, but shouldn't that be an individual goal? And are some of our students even ready to commit to some kind of number challenge? Why the same number for each student? And why genre requirements? I accidentally deleted the genre requirement from my syllabus this past semester and discovered that I didn't need it in order to get my students reading widely. So I'm not putting it back on the syllabus this semester. I think it's more important for teachers to read widely across genres than I think it is for students in their personal reading lives. We can use book talks and read-alouds to introduce students to genres they might want to read in their personal reading lives, but I'm not sure what benefit there is to requiring them to read a certain number of books in each genre.

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    1. Great points, Elisabeth! (And yes, as a preservice teacher, I too devoured useful charts and forms. Anything to help me hold on to what I wanted to accomplish and keep me focused.) I agree with you about the genre requirement, especially as "forcing" kids to "endure" a certain number of books, purely to boost genre numbers, sounds like a recipe for cultivating reading dislike! I am always conscious of provided a diversity of choices in materials presented, shared, and read aloud and that seems like a better motivator.

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    2. I'm struggling with your thoughts on the genre requirements. I believe (as I think Donalyn stated) that the requirements are set to push students outside of their comfort zone and preferences. One graphic novel is different from the next. One historical fiction author writes differently from another. It's about tasting a variety and creating a balanced diet of reading. No one is forcing a book, just challenging students to taste it. It's our job to provide specific preview stacks based on what we already know about a reader and connect them to something else they may like.

      Reminds me of that quote: "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention."
      Sir Francis Bacon

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  4. I agree that the most "entrenched" readers are often those who do not really see themselves as readers. They think they do not like reading, except... I guess our job is to get them to see that they do like reading, but have certain preferences- which we as adults certainly do too. I also liked the emphasis on different kinds of reading (graphic novels, rereading, internet reading, etc) as totally valid and agree that it is sometimes hard for parents to see this as worthwhile (hey, there are even teachers I know who struggle with this).
    I have used a version of the 40 Book Challenge for two years and have not really had a problem with "competition" because we have talked so often about everyone reading what is right for them and that everyone shares the goal of reading more than before.
    Have fun trying out new ideas in your classroom this year!

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! My constant struggle with my third graders is what I call "vanity book carrying," or the desire to be seen with the biggest and longest and hardest books, regardless of whether they fit that student as a reader in any way. My concern is that a specific book challenge would feed the vanity part of reading, but I appreciate your point that it really is all about the conversations, discussions, and class culture that you build around it. Food for thought, thanks!

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  5. What great thoughts! I loved when you said, "I have found that those who often do not think of themselves as readers tend to have the strongest preferences at all and be the most resistant to stretching themselves or trying different books and genres." How true! It is always my developing readers that I have the most trouble finding winning suggestions for.
    As to your question of Challenges being competition: I think the most important thing is to have conversations with the students about what a challenge is and how personal it is mean to be, and to constantly praise all students for even the smallest of goals. A 40 Book Challenge for one student will look different for another. In addition, it is important to make smaller goals for those who are easily discouraged and to make the goals together so the student begins taking responsibility for their own reading. Though students may make it a competition if given the freedom, it is important for the teacher to make it unmistakably clear that it is frowned upon. Conversation, conversation, conversation will keep the kids focused on their own goals, and they will model the behaviors of the teacher. The teacher praises everyone's successes and doesn't care who's read more books and so will the students. What I got from Donalyn's statement about not making things a competition, was that making reading a class competition, supported and condoned by the teacher, is a sure-fire way to discourage developing and dormant readers.

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    1. Thanks so much, Stephanie! I generally have my students make a quarterly reading goal, and I think maybe doing the "challenge" in a smaller way would work better - that way they get to "start fresh" through the year and not have the slippery slope of someone finding themselves behind and discouraged constantly. I just always find it interesting when I read teachers' responses about students or about their challenge because the number of books always seems to come up (so-and-so read 15 or 40 or 67), and I always feel like there is so much more to my students than any one number could capture.

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  6. Katie,

    Great question! (So, my response is going to start with sharing my thoughts about your question for discussion!) I can see the bit of confusion, but here's my take on it: Yes, it does seem like the 40 book challenge is a book tally and quite competitive. However, it is a tally and genre study of the books individual students read, to notice if they are reading widely or stuck in one genre. In addition, the goal is 40 books. Over the course of a year, that isn't much and the majority of Donalyn's students read way more than that! Reading 40 books also allows choice. Students are able to select what types of books to read (with a minimum). Again, not to compete or compare, but information and knowledge for the individual wild reader. The focus should be on a each student separate from others. It becomes social when kids start talking books all day long. Sharing, swapping, reading -- all with independence.

    I also agree with you that our readers who do not see themselves as readers have preferences too, but creating positive reading experiences with read alouds, book talks, trailers, etc. is important. First they need to see and know themselves as readers! Then we can being to stretch those readers.

    I can't wait to go back and read the other comments! I'm so glad you joined in the #cyberPD conversations! I look forward to seeing how all these new wild reading ideas shape our classrooms in the fall!

    Michelle

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    1. Thanks so much for the welcome and for sharing your thoughts, Michelle! This was a great opportunity to reflect, and I loved the community aspect of it as well.

      For me, I see that reading is already a positive, social force, and my students spend the year sharing, swapping, and reading books already, without a numerical book challenge. I like the idea of introducing and discussing genre as a way to expose students to different types of books but to start I may just leave it at that, exposure and exploration.

      I am always interested in expanding the positive experiences that my students have with books and reading. While I have done plenty of book talks (myself and student-led), I have not spent much time watching book trailers. Is there a web site or repository for such trailers or is it just a matter of surfing YouTube?

      Thanks again so much for hosting and sharing so much!

      Katie

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  7. Hi Katie,
    I have always understood the 40 Book Challenge as that - a challenge to students, not necessarily a requirement. I always put the challenge into perspective of approximately one book a week, give or take. I think the challenge simply helps students to guide their reading. I have had many students far surpass forty books even though I haven't actually issued a challenge to them. I would like "do something" with the genre suggestions this year simply to encourage students to sample different genres. I'm not sure how yet, so I'm anxious to read everyone's thoughts this week.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and making me reflect as well!
    Jill

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences, Jill. It is really helpful to hear how other teachers have implemented such a challenge. I am thinking about doing more explicit teaching about genre and having kids think about and recognize the genre of books that they are reading, as a way for them to understand that genre exists. I think such conversations might naturally spur curiosity and investigation of other genres without detailed requirements.

      I'm looking forward to seeing how my thoughts evolve after the chat next week too!

      Katie

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  8. I most definitely need to take advantages of my public library like you do! I only teach reading and writing, so I pulling in other content areas will be difficult for me, since I am not planning that instruction. I feel like making a weekly trip or even a trip every other week to the public library would bring in so many more reading opportunities to my kiddos. My non-fiction section is small and I am working on building it. I am wondering about your wonder question. I was getting ready to get my reading notebooks ready for my kiddos, based on Donalyn's reading notebooks and I was set on doing the 40 book requirement. I think that I am going to have to talk with my students first and see their thoughts as well. After all, it isn't just my classroom, it is theirs.

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    1. Hi Kristen, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Yes, definitely get involved with your library. I use ours all the time and am constantly pushing up against the dreaded 100 book limit, and yet I have only once had to pay for a lost book in six years. Well worth it. I find nonfiction and picture books are so expensive that it is often easier for me to rely on the library for those and work on building my classroom collection of fiction, novels, and poetry. As for the 40 books, I really like your idea of having it become a point of discussion for the class. If they take ownership, I think you will have even great success!

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  9. Katie,
    I've enjoyed your post and the comments and your responses. It has truly been one of the greatest challenges of this event, to keep up with the reading, the posting, and the conversation that builds across blogs. There are so many rich discussions as I stop at each blog.

    You made me smile with your diorama. Hilarious! I personally was never a diorama fan, but I always admired those that could pull it off. That might be the first one I've seen grow from a professional read.

    Like you, I enjoyed that Donalyn reminded us of the importance of reading preferences and reading favorite books. Those students who struggle to push beyond that are still limited by their experience. I think this is where peers and community can often help stretch readers into new territories.

    As a primary teacher, I find nonfiction to be a pretty easy sell in my classroom. As a matter of fact, each year I have a few readers that our goal is to grow beyond the nonfiction. This always makes me smile. As I read I wondered if younger readers enjoy nonfiction more as it is often written in high interest formats and appeals to their developmental level or if it because we have become more intentional with sharing nonfiction in our reading communities.

    In the years I worked as a literacy coach I learned a very important lesson, teachers develop ways that work for them to support and grow young learners. What works for one teacher doesn't always work for another. Like you, I've had concerns about a number goal. Do students "honestly" keep track of these numbers? What about students who read at a slower pace? Does it make reading a competition that is more extrinsic than intrinsic? Does it cause students to race through titles or choose shorter texts? I don't know the answer to any of these questions. I'd have to give it a try to see how it worked in our reading community. I try to keep an open mind, and after hearing Donalyn speak about it several times I believe it works well for her and students see their own growth from previous years. I'm not sure it would ever work for me.

    Thanks for asking the tough questions and sharing your thinking (and creativity),
    Cathy

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    1. Dear Cathy,

      Thank you so much for your dedication and deep involvement in this conversation and in helping provide this professional development opportunity. I am really enjoying the back-and-forth and opportunities to learn directly from others. I really appreciate the series of questions you lay out in your final paragraph, which I think get right to the heart of the issue, particularly the concern about extrinsic motivation. I think for my students, they will be better served by having deeper discussions about genre and my continuing to expose them to different styles and formats of books as well.

      I am looking forward to continuing to see how others interpret and implement these great ideas and to hear more in the upcoming chat!

      Thanks!

      Katie

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  10. Here is a post I wrote last summer about the true intent of the 40 Book Challenge. Perhaps, it will provide some insight: http://bit.ly/1mGzFQs

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