• 5 Questions With…

5 Questions With… Donalyn Miller

Donalyn Miller
November 15, 2013

5 Questions With... Donalyn MillerDonalyn Miller has worked with a variety of upper elementary and middle school students and currently teaches fifth grade at O.A. Peterson Elementary in Forth Worth, Texas. In her popular book, THE BOOK WHISPERER, Donalyn reflects on her journey to become a reading teacher and describes how she inspires and motivates her middle school students to read 40 or more books a year. In her latest book, READING IN THE WILD, Donalyn collects responses from 900 adult readers and uses this information to teach lifelong reading habits to her students. Donalyn currently facilitates the community blog, The Nerdy Book Club and co-writes a regular column for Scholastic's Principal-to-Principal Newsletter. Her articles about teaching and reading have appeared in publications such as THE READING TEACHER, EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP, and THE WASHINGTON POST.

Your research for READING IN THE WILD began with adult lifelong readers and sought to work backwards to discover their positive habits. How did you decide on this strategy?

Susan Kelley, my colleague, and I decided that surveying the reading habits of adults who read avidly would give teachers an accurate, robust portrait of how lifelong readers behave and offer insight into how these habits could be fostered and supported in young readers.

You said, “We give a lot of lip service to the idea that we’re creating lifelong readers in the classroom, but we aren’t being intentional about it.” How can teachers be more intentional in their practice?

In TEACHING WITH INTENTION, Debbie Miller charges all teachers to consider how our beliefs about teaching reading align with our practices, saying, “I'm convinced that success in the classroom depends less on which beliefs we hold and more simply on having a set of beliefs that guides us in our day-to-day work with children. Once we know who we are and what we're about in the classroom, we become intentional in our teaching; we do what we do on purpose, with good reason.”

If we truly believe that fostering avid reading behaviors in our students matters, what are we doing about it on a school-wide basis? Does the schedule ensure daily independent reading time? Does the school have a quality library staffed by a degreed librarian? Do the teachers have well-stocked classroom libraries? Are students reading self-selected texts at some point during the school day? Does everyone at the school model the importance of reading for both academic and personal goals?

Creating lifelong readers isn’t a wish. We have extensive research that tells us what conditions foster reading engagement and motivation. Unfortunately, the long term goal of creating lifelong readers often falls by the wayside in favor of short term goals like getting report card grades that don’t reflect authentic reading activities or preparing for standardized tests, which crowds out meaningful reading instruction and practice. 

When asking lifelong readers to identify the activities and events that led them to enjoy and appreciate reading, no one mentioned reading logs, book reports, or comprehension packets.

Each chapter of READING IN THE WILD contains “Community Conversations.” Why is it important to practice reading communally?

Cultural norms powerfully influence our behavior. We want to be successful and accepted in our group. It stands to reason that if reading becomes part of the value system in a group, more people will read. Developing peer-to-peer reading relationships sends positive messages about reading from other kids—not just teachers and parents—and provides children with other readers their age who can share and discuss books.

In a book about inspiring lifelong readers, it’s interesting that you touch on the topic of abandoning books. How does the freedom to quit on a book factor into a reader’s life?

Most avid readers feel comfortable abandoning books if they are not working for them. There is always another book waiting! Abandoning a book shows confidence and empowerment. You control your reading life when you can choose to abandon a book.

It was enlightening to learn that many of our survey respondents were less likely to abandon a book or stuck with a book longer if a friend recommended the book. If a reader you trust suggests a book, we give a book more of a chance.

As an active tweeter, blogger, and overall digital force, can you provide some tips for teachers who are looking to plug in to digital PD opportunities?

The best online PD tool is the one you will use. It doesn’t do you any good to have Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts if you aren’t willing to update all of them on a regular basis. Few of us have time for that! Select the tool that you like the best and cultivate it—that’s how you will build connections with other educators. You must contribute to online PD in order to garner the most benefit.

I would look for a few key people to follow or friend and look at how they blog, tweet, or collect and share resources. I find that some of the best literacy people to follow online are librarians, who understand resource collection and evaluation, as well as technology use.

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