Donalyn Miller Teaches Important Lessons about Fostering Lifelong Readers

Donalyn Miller, also known as the Book Whisperer, was a keynote speaker at the TCRWP August Reading Institute. She came and spoke about the importance, the research, and the ways teachers can help students become lifelong readers. Donalyn Miller is the author of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits (Jossey-Bass, 2014). She is a founding member of and regular contributor to Nerdy Book Club and maintains her own blog called The Book Whisperer.

So what exactly do lifelong readers do? A few very predictable things:

1. Lifelong readers spend time, often a lot of time, reading.

2. Lifelong readers successfully self-select books.

3. Lifelong readers have a social life around reading.

Lifelong Readers Spend Time, Often A Lot of Time, Reading

One of the most important things that teachers can do to build the “read a lot” habit is to teach kids that readers carry reading with them, often lots of it, wherever they go. That is, readers rarely make a trip—short, long, and in between—without some form of reading. A trip to the bathroom? Lifelong readers stock their bathrooms with reading material, everything from magazines to joke books to almanacs. A vacation trip to Florida? Lifelong readers think more deeply about what they will read on their trip than what they will wear on their trip! Because it turns out that real readers rarely have 30 (or more) minutes of independent reading time scheduled into their day. Rather, lifelong readers read in what Donalyn calls “the edges.” They read while waiting—in line at the grocery store, the dentist’s waiting room, the son’s karate lesson. Readers fill the smallest pieces of white space in their day with reading.

Lifelong Readers Successfully Self-Select Books

Because lifelong readers spend lots of time reading, they need strategies for keeping themselves in books. Talk to any lifelong reader and he can tell you not only what he’s currently reading, but also what is “on deck” as well. This means we need to teach kids how to find the books that will interest them and sustain a voracious reading habit. Of course, one way to do this is to have a vibrant and diverse classroom library. Many of us already take a page out of the playbook of bookstores and change up our displays regularly, highlight recommendations, and make “If you liked… (insert name of popular title here), then you’ll definitely want to try…” baskets. But if we only do this, Donalyn points out, we are at risk of creating greenhouse (aka dependent) readers. That is, readers who thrive in the very specialized conditions of our classrooms, but fail to thrive in real world conditions. So what’s a teacher to do? Try…

·using your read aloud as an opportunity to introduce an author who packs a powerful punch. For example, when teaching 5thgrade Donalyn read aloud Frindle to her students. She chose Frindle because it’s a wonderful story, and because Andrew Clements has written stacks and stacks of books that engage and delight heaps and heaps of 5th graders.

·teaching students to use technology to find books. Teach them bookselling websites like Amazon usually have a “Customers who bought this book also bought…” Teach kids about social media sites for readers like Goodreads where readers really track and post their reading lives. You could also teach kids about twitter—they can follow authors, publishers, and bloggers to learn about the latest greatest texts that might interest them.

·putting together what Donalyn calls “preview stacks” of books for individual readers or groups of like-minded readers. To create a preview stack, collect 4-5 books that might interest the reader. Prepare a little something to say about each book and why you included it in the stack. Eventually, you might teach into independence by suggesting that readers make preview stacks for other readers.

Lifelong Readers Have a Social Life Around Reading

As far as lifelong readers are concerned, the next best thing to reading is talking about reading! Lifelong readers have a lot to say about reading. They can talk about pivotal moments in their reading lives (first library card, for example), favorite reading spots, favorite bookstores and libraries, ways that their identities and interests as readers have changed and grown, and, of course, books. Lifelong readers talk about books—everything from favorites titles, authors, series, settings, characters, themes—the list of ways that readers talk about books is long and varied. This means that you will want to create time in each day for talk—whole class conversation, partner talk, club talk. And while creating time to talk is necessary, it is not sufficient. You will also want to teach kids to move from retelling information in the book to sharing the ideas they are developing, from talking about the main character to talking about relationships between characters, from talking about one text to talking across texts. Additionally, you will want to teach your readers why lifelong readers talk about their reading. They talk to deepen engagement. They talk to deepen comprehension. They talk to revise thinking.

The good news is that Miller’s Book Whisperer magic is accessible and replicable. We can absolutely teach kids to read a lot, to successfully self-select books and to build a social life around reading. And in doing so, we can help students to become lifelong readers.