Writing about her own and her husband’s reading lives, Donalyn Miller notes, “We rarely read a book that we don’t enjoy or at least appreciate”–and that’s because she and her husband have developed a trusted set of criteria for choosing books. Miller argues that teachers need to support students in developing their own system because “our students cannot depend on us to be their personal book shoppers forever.” I am sure that Miller has had the same experience in her classroom that I had: my students read voraciously as long as I was their “personal book shopper,” but as soon as they were out of my class and no longer had someone putting wonderful books directly into their hands every week, they didn’t know how to go about finding books they would love. How I wish I’d had this book to guide me in developing more tools and strategies for helping my students become lifelong readers! I assumed that many of the things I was doing in the classroom would magically transfer to my students, but that’s not always what happened.
Some key points in this chapter that I want to use in my own classes (and I teach college classes, so Miller’s ideas are very widely applicable!):
- Read-alouds are essential at every grade level. Miller suggests that teachers identify the five authors (not ignoring poets, playwrights, and nonfiction authors!) their students should know and then select at least one read-aloud from each author.
- Keep a list of texts you share together. In Children’s Lit and Adolescent Lit, I share a lot of texts that are not on our syllabus. I love the idea of keeping a wall chart of all of these texts and referring to it.
- Incorporate metacognition by asking students to reflect on how they select books. I could see using Miller’s “Selection Reflection form” at the beginning of the semester and at the end of the semester.
Miller shares an incredible story about Wildwood by Carson Meloy. Miller tried to read the book, didn’t like it, and ultimately abandoned it. She talked to her students about why she thought she would like the book and why she didn’t. She asked her students if they would be interested in trying to read it and letting her know what they thought. Students clamored for this book! 40 students signed up to read it!
In a classroom where students are encouraged to read widely and experiment with all sorts of books, my students are willing to take on reading challenges–even if they don’t work out.
She and her students spent SIX MONTHS on the Wildwood experiment. Each week, another student tried the book: many abandoned it; some brave souls pushed all the way through; and a couple of students even liked the book! I can only imagine the kinds of rich readerly conversations that resulted from this experience.
For classroom teachers, there are also great ideas for fairly distributing new books (always a problem in my classroom–I love Miller’s solution), handling “mature” titles, setting up a classroom library (and weeding it!), compiling “preview stacks” for students (one of my favorite techniques), and keeping track of your reading.
Finally, I just want to include a thank you in this post to Lorna at Not for Lunch and Carrie at There’s a Book for That. Their blogs have enriched my reading life (and my children’s and students’ reading lives!) so much. I love reading their opinions about books and know that if they love a book, it’s one that I need to read.