Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Reading in the Wild: Reading Networks (#cyberPD)

When Twitter connections selected Reading in the Wild (Donalyn Miller) as this year's #cyberPD book study, I found myself grateful for the chance to go back to the treasure trove and reread parts of the book alongside so many others. For more on the #cyberPD project, visit Reflect & Refine.

Donalyn's truths have a way of making me own up to the teacher I am and want to be, and I appreciate her work for that. As usual, I read through the wisdom and evidence that supports choice and independence in the reading workshop nodding my head, marking strong statements, noting ideas that I may want to explore further. However there was one phrase that lingered with me pages beyond it's devoted section and prompted me to reflect on two fronts: as a lead reader and as a teacher of reading. Today that phrase was "Reading Network."

In the last few years, I've done a lot of work to revitalize literacy instruction in my classroom, mainly with a priority to cultivate community. I've observed the increased strength and independence in my readers each year that is all the evidence I need that my shifts are for the better. Community is critical and must be nurtured and developed before the truest value of literacy--what comes from sharing with others--can be uncovered.

But, while that word "community" has received a lot of my attention, I hadn't really set it down next to the word "network" and considered what might set one apart from the other. Are they really the same?

My reflection began. You claim to be a wild reader? A lead reader? Do you have a reading network? And how did you find it or build it? Who is it? What sites or resources do you depend on?

I started a list. And I have to admit, I was surprised with the truth it revealed and I have to face. Even though I occasionally get caught revealing my inner-nerd in book talk with a few close colleagues, most of my people, sites, and resources are teachers and/or readers outside of my face-to-face circles. That is to say: I do most of my reading networking online. From Goodreads to Twitter, emails from publishing groups/sellers to authors' websites and countless hashtags, most of my network is outside a 50-mile radius.

Naturally, this led to reflecting in my other role. So--"teacher of reading"--how ARE you going to help foster a reading network with next year's students?

For my own sake, I have decided to interpret "network" as an extension, reaching out beyond the classroom. The reading community interactions--student to student and student to teacher--are a subset of the students' network, but to me, "network" implies a broader connection, beyond the classroom's four walls.

At the end of my list making and scrawl, I am walking away with three main ideas for expanding students' reading networks this fall:

1. Family. It's time to get real about parent involvement in reading. Maybe that will take some heavily scaffolded event nights or being a broken record about having parents visit us in the classroom, but the word MUST get out that our kids need to see the adults in their lives as readers. They need wide exposure to who reads and the variety of what they read. Donalyn describes an activity she does with students in which they bring in and share favorite read aloud books. My mind is rolling with how this could be tailored for a "get to know you" evening with students and families at the start of the year...

2. Geographically-diverse peers. My students need their horizon broadened. Their local community is small, and they have little opportunity to connect with peers in other places. The Global Read Aloud project will be a wonderful opportunity to facilitate some conversations between my students and others about a common book. (We're going to read One for the Murphys.) Yet, there's no reason to limit the book talk and networking to only October. Maybe this is the year to consider pairing with a "sister classroom." Maybe it's time to modernize the old pen pal routine (see #3).

3. Increased access to technology. The fact is, most of my students do not have access to a computer and/or the internet at home. Our access at school is limited also. However, now is the time to begin to lobby for the rumored laptop carts again. Now is the time to think creatively about scheduling to maximize time with the equipment. It's time to compile a bank of possible sources for collecting and sharing ideas of students' reading recommendations. Edmodo can host our classroom discussions. Eventually I expect to prepare students to maintain their own blogs on KidBlog. What I need to look for now is a site with student-generated book reviews and/or ads, or a safe-search site that will produce a query for book trailers.

How do you foster a reading network for yourself?
How do you foster a reading network for your students?


  1. Melissa,
    It's late and I must admit I'm a bit tired from reading posts and linking them to our jog. However, when I got here your post woke me right back up again. It is always interesting to me how readers find different nuggets in text. Your thinking about a reading network vs. a reading community has given me much to think about. A network does seem purposeful and connected. It seems to offer support and expertise. I'm going to be thinking about this in the weeks to come.


    1. Thank you, Cathy!

      There are a lot of ways I have worked to build community within the confines of my classroom, and those have become a "given," so to speak-things I KNOW I'll keep doing because they work. Networking suggests more to me. I agree with you that connected, support, and expertise are related words. Even now as I'm thinking about it, I realize that networks are all so very personal, too. Does that mean our students may have personal networks to build? Do my efforts promote individuality or do I try to make my good intentions fit for everyone?

      A whole new thinking storm has started...

  2. Melissa,

    I too was struck by the idea of reading networks. One of my friends, a third grade teacher, spends quality time discussing with her student about how she finds books and they chart how they learn about books. She introduced them to LibraryThing as a way to both track their reading and get more recommendations. (I am not endorsing it, just providing the link if you are interested in looking at it The online program recommends books, but the students can also write recommendations and find friends with similar tastes. Since I've observed her talking with her students about her reading networks, I've paid more attention to what my network is - Twitter, Facebook, GoodReads, the newspaper, the magazine Real Simple, NPR, etc. I have GoodReads loaded on my smartphone, so I always have a place to record books I want to read. I need to be more explicit about my network with my own students!


    1. Suz- Thank you for the link to Library Thing. I will take a look, I have not heard of that resource before.

      Sounds like you're in good company with your networking tools. I depend on Goodreads often. I'm usually that crazy lady in the bookstore who is flicking through screens on her iPhone because I'm shopping my TBR list!

  3. Melissa,

    What a thought-provoking response you wrote! I have been pondering this very idea lately, brainstorming ideas, etc. without a real name for it: networking. I teach reading and writing to 6th graders, so my main goal this year is to expand both outside of the classroom as much as possible. I like how you identified the 3 main areas you wanted to focus on, too...all so important for creating networks and supporting our young readers, even after they leave our rooms. The authenticity produced by networking could be a huge motivator for so many students!

    Thank you so a wonderful read! You've given me a lot to think about!


    1. Katy, thank you for your kind words!

      There is so much to think about when it comes to making reading lives REAL for kids. Guiding and coaching them to identify who and what will influence them as readers is so important. I think a lot of us would acknowledge that a true part of our motivation to read is fear of missing out-wanting to share in what has others excited. And how DO we find out about what we're missing? Probably through a network.

  4. Melissa,

    I am glad that you decided to reread this book and join in our conversations. Loved that connection you made between community and network. I had not thought of it that way either, but truly you explained it so well! And how do we engage our students in a network beyond the walls of the classroom. I think you have brainstormed some great options! Another tool for kids: -- think of Goodreads but for kids.

    The family component is what I think is so important as well! I have left comments on several posts about collaborating to create and plan parent workshop ideas. We need to involve our parents to create these wild readers!

    Loved your thinking, Melissa! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    1. Thank you, Michelle. I haven't used Biblionasium in a while. I liked the concept, but found my limited internet access with students kept it from being a useful tool.

      The parent piece is critical, but challenging. I expect part of the challenge is that many parents have not had positive shared reading experiences and are not feeling the importance of reading in their lives. It's hard to genuinely promote and encourage what you don't feel attached to!

      I wonder if there is a community organization that might be interested in partnering to host adult/family book clubs? And maybe they'd be willing to coordinate with reading initiatives and events at school? Hmm...this may need further exploration...!

  5. Loved this reflection on your network. I too have a cyber network of readers which is good. I find out so much from my friends online. And the good news is I can bring it home and many (not all) hop on board!

    I am so intrigued by your family outreach ideas. I have to think hard on this one too. Most of my families aren't wild readers. Many hated reading as kids and I don't think they do much of it now. They support reading because it has been drilled into them by our school that it matters. But it is a battle that isn't winning on the home front. I think our parent nights in the past have been too academic rather than a how to bring reading into their lives as something that is a joyful thing. In my case I believe we need to create wild readers in the parent population as much as we do with our students. I'm wondering if electronics might help. If your parents have smart phones the kindle app makes for the possibility of reading anywhere. It give access if nothing else!

    I loved the Global Read Aloud and Kid blog. We did it last year and will connect this year too. I recommend both highly!

    1. I think our family communities might be very similar, Julieanne. As I was just responding to Michelle, I was thinking about the belief most of us hold to that we have to read and make our reading lives very transparent with students, and how we know that a teacher who is excited about reading can be contagious. Compare that environment to a classroom next door where a teacher "encourages" reading in word but not deed. That's not so different from the parent who encourages reading homework but never picks up a book in front of the students, is it?

      So, as I shared with Michelle, now I think my thinking has gone down another avenue, and I'm wondering what opportunities can be created to promote adult/family reading communities. How can we help parents find personal satisfaction and enjoyment in reading, especially if they didn't have it before?

  6. I love your ideas for how to expand your students' reading network this year, Melissa! As a new teacher, these are inspiring for me to read through and think about. The more I read and listen to those around me, the more I begin to understand how very important both "reading communities" and "reading networks" are. I think I need to do a better job of expanding these in my own life so that I help my students do so more effectively in their lives. Thanks for the great ideas!

    1. You are in a great place to learn and reflect, Laura. Donalyn's books have both had a significant impact on the way my reading instruction has evolved. And there are so many great minds joining together to expand on her work and share their thinking! Glad you are here and participating. Thanks for reading!

  7. Melissa,
    What a powerful post! It really made me stop and ponder about the differences between a community and a network, which I had never really thought about before. I love that you asked some tough questions and that you've already started brainstorming some ideas for the upcoming school year. As a fellow 4th grade teacher, I am excited to make these connections so I have my own network to turn to! I can't wait to read your thoughts next week.

    1. Laura, thank you for your encouragement! I'm glad my thinking--shared--could prompt thinking for others.

      Will you be participating in this year's Global Read Aloud?

  8. You've given me much to think about! My reading network is almost entirely online too, though I do have a network with my college students. (I'm a teacher educator). I tend to encourage my pre-service teachers to also develop online reading networks, and your post makes me realize I need to put more thought into other ways to develop reading networks.