Getting kids to read: The 5 key habits of lifelong readers

(Donalyn Miller)
(Donalyn Miller)

How do people become lifelong readers? That’s a subject tackled in a new book, “Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits,” by Donalyn Miller, a sixth-grade language arts teacher in Texas who is known as the Book Whisperer.

After her first book, The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, was published in 2009, she began to notice that students whom she had taught to be independent readers in her class moved on to the next grade and suddenly stopped reading.

This, she said in an interview, dismayed her, and at first, she blamed other teachers for failing to keep students inspired to read. In her own class, she said, she had built a “green house” of sorts for students in which she had routinely set time aside for kids to read, helped them select books and created an environment in which peer reading relationships were easy to form.

“Why then do they still need a a teacher to orchestrate their reading lives?” she said she wondered after students who had left her class visited and told her they weren’t reading much anymore. That’s when Miller realized that the students still did not have “reading role models.” They still didn’t know how to schedule reading time, or how to pick books on their own.

So with veteran teacher Susan Kelly,Miller wrote “Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits,” which explains how to cultivate lifelong reading habits. The list was developed in part from a survey, in which people related their own reading habits.

Here are the five key habits of lifelong readers that teachers and parents should try to cultivate in young people (and you can read more from Donalyn Miller on her Book Whisperer blog at Education Week Teacher).

By Donalyn Miller

Wild Readers:

• Dedicate time to read. They spend substantial time reading in spite of their hectic lives. Wild readers capitalize on the moments in their days when they are bored or waiting, and rack up significant reading time by stealing it.

• Successfully self-select reading material. Wild readers are confident when selecting books to read and have the experience and skills to choose books successfully that meet their interests, needs, and reading abilities.

• Share books and reading with other readers. Wild readers enjoy talking about books almost as much as they like reading. Reading communities provide a peer group of other readers who challenge and support us. As literacy expert, Stephen Krashen reminds us, “Children read more when they see other people reading.”

• Have reading plans. Wild readers plan to read beyond their current book. They anticipate new books by favorite authors or the next installment in a beloved series. Reading is not a casual, once-in-awhile pursuit.

• Show preferences for genres, authors, and topics. Yes, children need to read widely and experience a wide range of texts as part of their literacy educations. But wild readers express strong preferences in the books they like to read—gravitating toward specific genres, writing styles, topics, and beloved authors.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | November 14, 2013