Engaging the Disengaged [Where to Begin]

Striving readers of all ages often face many challenges. They can get frustrated with how often they are stuck on words. They might not be able to comprehend a whole lot, or even worse, not even realize that they aren’t comprehending at all.

Which means they miss out on the magic of reading. And they likely notice that their friends are moving forward with seeming ease, yet they aren’t ready for what they consider to be this exciting rite of passage.

I could go on and on and on with the myriad ways our young readers might confront challenges.

Don’t get me wrong. Productive struggle is good–we of course all want our students to become readers who have strategies in their tool belt they can apply to new situations independently, and a some productive struggle along the way is what gets them there. We are right by their side, guiding them into greater bands of text complexity as our year with them progresses.

But constant struggle–sometimes years of it–can really wear kids down.

It would wear anyone down.

The act of reading…even the very idea of reading, can bring such a sense of discouragement and weariness that they soon lose interest entirely.

If you’ve been a classroom teacher for any amount of time, you’ve seen this heartbreak–and challenge–more than once.

What to do? Begin with examining engagement.

One or two kids might really stand out to you, but that may mask other issues that aren’t quite so obvious. Really take stock, and act as a scientist who just observes and takes careful notes.

There are many types of engagement inventories out there, but my most favorite is the one Jennifer Seravallo provides for free on the Heinemann site. It’s simple, straightforward, and incredibly eye-opening. Whenever the teachers I work with take the time to do this, they are astounded by what they see, and so grateful they took the time to do it. If you follow Seravallo’s work, you’re likely familiar with her hierarchy. Engagement is at the very top.

In other words, if kids aren’t engaged, not much else can be taught.

Which, of course, makes perfect sense. None of us wants to do things we don’t like, especially if they’re hard. That’s normal, human nature.

After taking stock of engagement, here’s what I like to look for:

  • Who’s pretending to read?
  • Who’s abandoning books?
  • Who’s reading at a too fast or too slow rate?
  • Is anyone getting up?
  • Are kids spacing out? Easily distracted? Playing with whatever is within reach?
  • Are kids having silent (or not so silent) conversations with each other?
  • Who’s spending too long jotting?
  • What are they jotting? Is it of substance?
  • Who is really into their books? What are they reading?
  • How many books are in their bins/bags/stacks? How many bookmarks are peeking out of different books?
  • Who’s actually reading?
  • Who’s reacting to their reading? Watch their faces.

Next, it’s time to mine the data.

But I don’t stop there.

Knowing that I’m the one who is providing students with what they need to be productive, capable, and engaged readers, I have to look at myself.

Have I:

  • Curated my classroom library to be filled with engaging, high-interest books that kids will find relevant? Are the books I have out accessible to them? In other words, have I ensured that every child can find books that are an appropriate reading level for them? (More on that here). Colby Sharp and Donalyn Miller have just published a fantastic book all about this called The Commonsense Guide to Your Classroom Library. It’s one to check out for sure, and will give you lots of guidance (and no, I’m not an affiliate marketer).
  • Ensured that my library is prominent, well-stocked, and books are attractively displayed?
  • Done an interest inventory to see what this years’ class is into? Have I spotlighted the kinds of books I know they’ll love?
  • Established a read aloud routine where I can help cultivate a love of reading? Have I modeled for them when I myself might get stuck or have to think strategically to show that ALL readers go through this?
  • Taken time each week to “book talk” a different book? Have I served as advertiser to share my excitement for it?
  • Have I introduced specific books to individual kids to let them know I see them as readers and am thinking of them?
  • Given them choice?
  • Clearly set up expectations around what independent reading time looks like? Have I stuck with it long enough to ENSURE that kids are engaged? Could I leave the room for a minute or two and walk back in without my kids even noticing–because they’re so involved in reading?

If these answers are all a yes, then I can focus on helping students set goals for themselves. If all of these things are in place, then I’ve done the most important part, and from there it’s my role to help students make choices that will best help themselves get back on the road to feeling like capable, successful readers.

What’s one question you might ask yourself regarding student engagement this week? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Want to learn more about how you can increase reading engagement in your classroom? Contact me to set up a coaching call so we can think it through together! And, join my private FB group for immediate support from like-minded educators!

Was this post helpful? Subscribe here to get all new posts that will make an impact on your teaching!

Related posts: Setting Up Your Classroom Library, The Secret to Setting Up Your Library for Maximum Student Impact, To Level or Not to Level

Add A Comment