Independent Readers are Wild Readers – #cyberPD Part I

I am currently reading Donalyn Miller’s book, Reading in the Wild as part of this summer’s #cyberPD book study co-hosted over at the Literacy Zone blog. The idea is to read two chapters at a time and write a blog post that is then linked back to one of the participating blogs for this book study.



Reading in the Wild is a follow-up to Donalyn’s first book, The Book Whisperer, which promoted “free voluntary reading” in the classroom as a way to develop a love of reading in students. In this second book, Donalyn takes these ideas a step further by describing the kind of attitudes and behaviours commonly exhibited by “wild readers”, or readers who love to read so much they always have a book in their hand, no matter where they go. The attitudes and behaviours of wild readers, as identified in this book, are the following: dedicating time to read; self-selecting reading material; sharing books and reading with other readers; having reading plans; and showing preferences for genres, authors and topics p. xxiii – xxiv). How teachers can foster these behaviours in the classroom is the general topic of this book.

The theme that is continuously woven through the first two chapters is that of developing independent readers. I am sure this theme will be present in small and big ways in the rest of the book. Independence is an important teaching concept for me, not just in teaching reading but in all aspects of classroom life. Since I teach students to be independent from the first day of school, I found immediate affinity with the ideas presented in Donalyn’s book. Of course, the road to independence isn’t about letting kids loose to figure it out on their own. On the contrary, it’s about taking advantage of opportunities, both planned and unplanned, to teach students how to become independent through one-on-one conferences, and small and whole group lessons. The primary goal that Donalyn Miller, with Susan Kelley, has set out to demonstrate in Reading in the Wild is that the independent behaviours of wild readers can and should be taught to students.

I am looking forward to continuing to read this book and to implement the ideas presented here in my new assignment as a classroom teacher.

Cross posted to Reflect and Refine.  

A heads up and a teaser

A heads up – Go here for information about this wonderful new book on retrospective miscue analysis. 

The Essential RMA: A Window into Readers’ Thinking
by Yetta M. Goodman, Prisca Martens and Alan D. Flurkey
will be available for $7.00 until Friday, July 11th. After that date the price will double. Get yours now!

And, a teaser – I will be posting a review here, soon.

Awards Ceremonies – Yay or Nay?

Last week I attended the awards ceremony at my son’s school. Although I was pretty sure he wouldn’t get an award since I hadn’t received an email to that effect – the school notifies parents if their child is to receive an award without telling them what the award is – I was disappointed. I wasn’t disappointed in my son. He is a wonderful, creative, amazing kid who never ceases to surprise me with his wit and insightful observations and comments. He also had an excellent year with a teacher whom he loved and who in turn taught him to love math, which had previously been a dreaded subject for him.

No, I was disappointed in myself. After all, I don’t believe in awards ceremonies. They are happy occasions for those getting an award and a sad time for the child who doesn’t get anything. And, of course, the vast majority receives nothing. And, it’s often the same kids getting an award. Award ceremonies reinforce a system where some are acknowledged and others are ignored, or at least not recognized. Of course, proponents of awards ceremonies would tell you otherwise. They would say that children need to be publicly recognized for their efforts and achievements. That’s life, they would say, why shield children from the harsh reality that there are winners and losers? Better get used to it early on and then they’ll be motivated to work hard for those awards. Bingo! There’s the rub: “they’ll be motivated to work hard for those awards”. Isn’t learning more than that? Isn’t real learning often, if not always, impalpable, long-lasting and even life changing? Isn’t learning that’s not tied to subject areas and tests scores more important than awards that are given for nuggets of knowledge? Who is to say that a child who didn’t get an award didn’t learn as much or more than the one that did? Who determines this? Why?

The questions are endless in my mind.

Yet, despite what I know and believe about awards (thanks go to Alfie Kohn), why was I so disappointed in myself?

I was disappointed in myself for feeling disappointed that my son (and other children) had not been recognized for anything, and this on the last day of school. Of course, last year when he received an award none of these doubts and disappointments surfaced. I was happy that he had received an award. I justified my feelings, then and now, by telling myself that he needed the recognition because he had just left a school where he’d had a bad experience, and even after he left, everything was touch and go for a while. So, this public recognition was my way of relaxing into my doubts: maybe this time, I told myself, it was OK.

This year was different…again. (Isn’t every year different?) Not only did my son not get an award but the week before school ended, he surmised, “I don’t think I’m going to get an award. I haven’t improved in anything.” As an educator, I know that improvement is not always palpable. And, of course, he has improved but maybe not in the things that may count for an award. Of course, I have no idea the criteria for these awards other than they’re all called “improvement awards”. How is improvement measured or determined, anyway?  

So, why do schools insist on these award ceremonies that elevate some and ignore others? Why can’t we end the year with a celebration of the learning of all the children and teachers, perhaps with some refreshments and a chance to hear an inspiring talk by a student or two? It seems that this might be a fitting end to the year.

We all want recognition for the work we do, day in and day out, not in the form of an award but by reflecting with peers what we’ve learned. Reflection is the road to learning. Awards are not. Instead, they are the stopping point.

What do you think? Am I just being a complainer and a sore loser? Or, do you agree that awards ceremonies are detrimental to creating an atmosphere of trust and learning in schools? Please leave a comment below.

Adults Bullying Teachers – more common than you might think

A recent post by Pernille Ripp sounded eerily familiar and resonated with my own experiences as a teacher. It reminded me of my own trials and tribulations “fitting in” and “feeling appreciated” for what I bring to the table. I have always been an independent thinker, which has inadvertently created jealousies or bad feelings with other teachers and even administrators. I am not a “follower” and I have often gotten into hot water without realizing what was happening until it was too late. Yes, negative professional relationships abound no matter what field we are talking about. However, the situation that Pernille describes sounds all too familiar to many teachers and is ironic given school rhetoric around teacher collaboration and community.    
Pernille’s experience is, of course, unique to her situation, time and place. However, I know I am not alone when I say that many of us have experienced rejection and weathered poor relationships at our school sites, at one time or another in our careers. Some of these encounters have bordered on or have clearly been characterized by bullying behaviours by other adults in the building. If you haven’t experienced this, you have been extremely fortunate. I say this because of the many comments teachers have left on Pernille’s blog post testifying to their own bullying experiences. So, for those that have not experienced this, I hope you will leave a comment or two about how you have been able to rise above these petty (in the big scheme of things) but uncomfortable and potentially debilitating situations. For the rest of us, it’s time to reflect. 
I don’t think it’s about trying to figure out what was done to us and why or what we did to deserve a negative response from colleagues or immediate supervisors but rather how we can be smart and respond in a healthy manner without being blind sighted. I say this because I have had experiences where I have all the good intentions of doing just that, then I let my guard down, and boom, I am hit from behind. Of critical importance is the ways in which we react or respond to personal and/or professional attacks in our place of work. When these attacks happen they are intended (yes, I believe there is premeditation, here) to injure our professional and personal integrity. This is never justifiable but it can rarely be fought on an even keel. In other words, these situations aren’t usually resolved by confronting the offending party; they will always deny it and will, by that time, have a circle of supporters to defend them. So, one way to deal with these situations is to find others, including colleagues, students, family and friends, who can be positive with us in order to deflate the negative energy. We need to set our sights outside of our workplace in order to put these pernicious situations in context. If not, we will burn out faster than a waning candle. And, if nothing else works we can find our strength with our students.  
Of course, we are often our own worst enemies. I know I am, and by saying this I am publicly admitting that I need to follow the advice I just gave so freely and authoritatively. If I did, I would be a happier and more effective educator, not to mention that my family would appreciate my efforts. So, I hereby proclaim the following: 
  • to not allow others to get me down when I know that what I am doing for my students is right given my particular situation and group of students; no one knows them better than I do no matter what they think. 
  • To seek positive and like-minded colleagues (here’s a shout out to my PLN, both virtual and in person) from whom I can get and give support and sustenance. 
  • To treat others the way I want to be treated – it does rub off producing a trickle effect. (Maybe in that sense, Ronald Reagan was right – good vibes do multiply themselves.) 
  • And, finally, to consider alternative ways to connect, teach, learn, give back, feel professionally validated outside of my school because the reality is that it may not happen there. Sad but true. I am always enriched when I reach out to others through Twitter, blogs, etc and, as a result, my colleagues are impacted as well even if they don’t know it.

What have your experiences been? Do you think my proclamation is realistic? What do you suggest to teachers experiencing bullying situations in their places of work?