Planning for Another Year of Reading | Donalyn Miller

Advice from the "Book Whisperer," along with recommended titles to sustain the enthusiasm of young readers.

When I was a classroom teacher, the return from winter break offered an annual opportunity to help my students reflect on their fall reading experiences and set personal reading goals for the year ahead. Partnering with school librarians and language arts teachers over the years, we looked for engaging ways to rejuvenate our students’ enthusiasm—challenging everyone in our school community to commit to another year of reading. 

Teachers often need ways to maintain student interest in reading. Blah winter days at school seem more bearable when you can travel someplace else in a book or talk about books with a friend. 

Strong reading communities make time for not only discussing and sharing the books we finish and the ones we are currently reading but also ones we might read in the future. The teachers organized surveys for kids to celebrate and share their favorite titles of the year. Using book passes and other organized browsing opportunities, we previewed and shared stacks of books—building personal to-read lists and stretching ourselves to read more widely. Around school, kids and adults booktalked a lot of new and new-to-us titles. 

While our reading lives wax and wane between lots of reading and less, readers imagine themselves reading in the future, while many nonreaders don’t (Miller, 2013).

Through surveys and conversations with thousands of readers over the years, I’ve found some commonalities in readers of all ages and backgrounds. Their goals are to:

Find time to read.  Many readers report the biggest obstacle preventing them from reading is finding time for it. Recommitting to reading requires examining our schedules and habits to identify moments when we can steal some reading time. Access is also a factor. Do you have something to read when the opportunity appears? Prepare for time spent waiting or commuting each day. Throw a book in your bag or download an audiobook. 

Consider students’ book access both in and outside of school. Ensure that every student has at least a few engaging titles to read at home, and they will find more time for them. Around school, set up crates of magazines, trivia and joke books, picture books, and short stories—fingertip access for kids waiting in the cafeteria or the bus line.

Finish more books.  You can commit to this goal by signing up for something public like the Goodreads Reading Challenge, committing to reading a certain number of books this year, or just determining to finish more of the books you start. 

While we all abandon a book on occasion, look out for young readers who frequently or habitually quit books. For students who struggle with that, promote series. When kids don’t have a reading plan, the series becomes the plan—maintaining the momentum and improving young readers’ confidence and comprehension with each subsequent book they complete. I’ve seen readers of popular series form their own reading communities—I remember some sixth graders who formed a “Warriors” cat clan—discussing their favorite characters and swapping and recommending titles. Such supportive peer group also communicates positive social messages about reading.

In addition to series, less lengthy works might encourage disengaged readers. Short story collections, novels in verse, graphic novels, and nonfiction offer variety and provide meaningful reading experiences in less time. Short stories and poetry anthologies featuring many authors and illustrators introduce kids to folks they might read in the future. 

Short texts to spark reading momentum

 

It’s a Whole Spiel: Love. Latkes, and Other Jewish Tales.  Edited by Laura Silverman and Katherine Locke. Random House. 2019.

The Hero Next Door. Edited by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. Crown. 2019.

Insect Superpowers: 18 Real Bugs that Smash, Zap, Hypnotize, Sting, and Devour! Kate Messner. Chronicle. 2019.

Little Legends: Exceptional Black Men in History. Vashti Harrison. Little Brown. 2019.

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks. Jason Reynolds. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy. 2019.

The Moon Within. Aida Salazar. Scholastic. 2019.

This Place: 105 Years Retold.  Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm & others, illus. by various artists. Highwater. 2019.

New Kid. Jerry Craft. HarperAlley, 2019.

Once Upon an Eid: Stories and Hope by 15 Muslim Voices. Edited by S.K. Ali and Aisha Saeed. Amulet. 2020.

Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir. Nikki Grimes. Wordsong. 2019.

Red Panda & Moon Bear. Jared Roselló. Top Shelf. 2019.

Thanku: Poems of Gratitude.  Edited by Miranda Paul, illus. by Marlena Myles. Millbrook. 2019.

“Yasmin!” series. Saadia Faruqi. illus by Hatem Aly. Capstone.

 

Read specific titles, authors, genres, series, or topics.  Readers often have favorite authors, genres, and formats. Tapping into their preferences, past reading experiences, and passionate interests provides insight into possible book matches. Students need lots of opportunities to preview, share, and talk about titles with their classmates and friends. Schedule regular booktalking opportunities and encourage students to make lists of books they might read and topics that interest them. 

Read to grow. Recognizing that we all have reading gaps and goals, many readers make more ambitious or long-term reading commitments. Others turn to books when learning new skills or committing to self-improvement or inquiry. For several years, I have tried to read as many #ownvoices books by BIPOC authors and artists as possible—introducing me to stories, experiences, and perspectives from around the world. Fascinated with gardening, but not as experienced as my mom, I bought the latest book by Neil Sperry, a legendary Texas gardener, and plan to work my way through his month-by-month guides.

Ask students to reflect on their reading experiences for the first part of the school year, and help them identify gaps and goals for themselves. How can they sneak in more reading time? What genres, formats, authors and illustrators do they prefer? What do they avoid or profess to dislike? What topics interest them? Do they read from both inside and outside their own lived experiences? How can they continue to grow as readers and people in 2020? Which books can help them on their journey?

Making reading plans moves students toward more ownership for their reading lives—a necessary step to ensure they continue picking up books after school ends. Recommitting to reading as a school community sends a powerful message about the importance of reading and its value—all year long. 

Of interest:

“New Year, New Books, Our 2020 Preview”  | The Yarn podcast

“YA Anthologies: Discovering and Using New Collections for Teen Readers” by Kelly Jensen 

 

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Donalyn Miller

Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks) is an award-winning teacher, author, and staff development leader.

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