Most educators agree that one of the best ways to prepare kids for their futures is to instill a love of reading. Spark that inner hunger in students, and you set them on the pathway to success in school and life.
“Studies show that children who love reading are most successful in school, ” says language-arts teacher Donalyn Miller. “Later in life, readers have better job prospects, enjoy more professional success, and are more socially and civically involved in their communities.”
“That’s because reading increases students’ background knowledge, increases vocabulary, improves writing skills, and heightens social awareness, ” adds Miller, author along with contributor Susan Kelley of the new book Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits.
Miller, a Texas educator, can back up her assertions with impressive results. Her students read 40 or more books a year and regularly score well on the state’s standardized tests. She calls avid, self-directed, voluntary reading “wild reading.” Reading in the Wild was written specifically for educators, but whether you’re a teacher or a parent, you can learn something from her proven advice on how to foster “wild” reading behaviors in students. They include:
1) Set reading time in stone. Set aside a significant amount of time each day for independent reading.
2) Give the power to the people… the power to choose which books to read, that is. It’s no secret that class-wide assigned books tend to be far from universally popular. This widespread distaste for classroom classics is a big problem, says Miller, because for students to become wild readers, they must see reading as a pleasure, not a chore.
3) Hone students’ reading radars. Allowing students to choose the books they read is all well and good. But if they don’t know how to go about finding and selecting material on their own, they’ll be stuck at square one. “To start, you can recommend genres, authors, or specific books you think your students will enjoy, ” Miller says.
4) Forget about labels. Reading levels (specifically, the Lexile Framework for Reading) were designed with good intentions: They’re meant to match young readers with appropriately rigorous texts. However, using Lexile measures to denounce low-level choices, to elevate certain books over others, and to dictate book purchases and recommended reading lists may hurt more than it helps. “Avid readers do not always read at the edge of their competence, ” she says.
5) Don’t read in a vacuum. While reading is usually done alone, it can — and should — be approached as a social activity as well. This is achieved when students swap books, share observations and recommendations, make predictions, talk about favorite characters, and more.
6) Read aloud regularly. Reading books, poems, articles, and short stories aloud gives you endless opportunities to highlight great writing, broaden exposure to genres and authors, model reading strategies, start discussions, and more.
7) Promote good book digestion. In general, students need to respond to the books they read to grow as wild readers (and as intellectuals!). Discussions are one way to encourage this type of engagement with books. “Setting up reading lists is a good way to begin, ” she says. “This is simply a chart wherein students can record each book they read … how they chose it, and their rating of it.”
8) Learn to recognize “fake” readers. Whether they aren’t strong readers, don’t like the book, or have short attention spans, some students will inevitably pretend to read instead of actually doing it. “I recommend working with these students one-on-one to help them find accessible and engaging books, and to set reasonable goals for reading.”
9) Curate a library. Studies show that students in classrooms (or homes) with filled bookshelves interact more with books, spend more time reading, demonstrate more positive attitudes toward reading, and exhibit higher levels of reading achievement.
10) Make reading a family affair. “Many parents lack strong, positive reading experiences themselves and don’t always see the urgency in supporting their children’s literacy in meaningful ways, ” Miller says. “You can’t engage students with reading if you aren’t a reader yourself. You need to be able to choose, recommend, and discuss a variety of books.”
About the Authors: Donalyn Miller is the coauthor of Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits. Known as “The Book Whisperer” for her insightful advice on what students like to read and how to foster independent reading, Donalyn teaches language arts and social studies at Peterson Elementary in Fort Worth, Texas. She is also the author of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child.
To learn more, please visit Donalyn online at www.bookwhisperer.com.
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