Tips for Engaged, Independent Readers [Part 3: Teacher Presence]

This post is the third installment of a 4-part series centered on moves teachers can make that will help their students become more engaged and independent as readers during that all-important independent reading time. 

Loads of research underscores how important it is that kids are given time to read every day, for myriad reasons.  Just a few years ago, NCTE put out a position statement all about it, which includes a nice list of relevant research within it, although there is much more out there.  Because it’s such an important part of a strong literacy program, we must work to avoid any pitfalls that might stand in the way of making this time most productive and impactful for kids.  

We cannot let this precious time in the day become a waste of time.  It’s just too crucial.  

“Research supports that independent reading has the most significant impact on student success in reading, but unfortunately it is a practice that is often replaced with other programs and interventions.”

(Lewis & Samuels, 2002 as cited in NCTE’s position statement)

In part 1 of this series, I shared ways we tend to make missteps with the actual books we provide.  This is the very foundation of it all.  In part 2, I shared caveats when it comes to the classroom environment, beyond how things are arranged.  I encourage you to check out those posts, too.

But, without trying to sound like an infomercial, wait–there’s more! 

In this post, I’ll share mistakes we often make in helping our students engage with reading when it comes to our own teacher presence.   

Raise your hand if you are a teacher who feels like there’s never enough time to see all your kids.


Yes? That’s you?  Then keep reading–you might be making the mistakes I’m sharing.  

I know you most likely raised your hand–because aren’t we all pressed for time??  But the kicker is that this time pressure is exactly what leads us to making this big mistake.

In part 2, I talked about the noise issues that can arise when we spend the majority of our time at the small group table, and call kids over to us rather than get up and go to them.  (Again, I urge you to read that post for the details).  

But our rush to move kids through as quickly as we can–so that we can see all the kids we want to see– causes the teacher presence mistake.  

And it does not help our kids become engaged and independent readers.  

Most of us pull small groups of kids to work with.  But then we stay in one spot.  Even if we can truly see every single child in the room at any given moment, this can very much lead to student disengagement.  When they know you’re not going to get up to really put your eyes on the whole room, they will play into it.  They know your attention is very divided. Your eyes and ears are going to mostly be on the kids in your group–of course.  They have to be.


And that gives the rest of the kids plenty of opportunity to whisper to kids nearby, flip pages, move all around, find that random pebble to play with that’s always somehow there, and spend a lot of time just generally watching others.  They have to keep an eye on you, after all, so they can get back to “reading.”  I promise, if you sit back and did an engagement inventory one day, when they think you’re busy with some sort of paperwork, your eyes will be opened. 

It happens to all of us.  

So what’s the fix?  Is it possible to help a class like this?


The fix is so simple.  

After you send kids off to read, but before you gather your first small group or move to your first conference, just…stand still.  Watch.  This move alone will do wonders for sending the message that you see it all, and that you expect your students to get settled and focused like you’ve taught.  

But don’t stop there!  To really ensure that your kids are truly engaged, you’ve got to criss-cross the room.  So instead of dismissing your first group of kids and calling over the next, stand up and go tap the shoulders of kids you need to see next.  This will cause you to criss-cross the room, and your presence will be very felt.  It’s a great way to hold kids accountable, and it’s very, very subtle.  

I also advise not JUST working with small groups.  It’s super important to continue a regular conferring schedule.  So before you meet with a group, or in between them, it’s always wise to confer with a child or two–again, criss-crossing the room when you do.

Speaking of conferring, this works the same way when the majority of your time is spent meeting 1:1 with kids.  Stop and observe first, then move to a child.  When you are ready to meet with another student, criss-cross the room.  Kids should know that you are going to be everywhere, and that you can see it all.  Because there’s no defined pattern for them to figure out, they’re going to remain on their toes.  Plus, when you pass by, you are able to give a quick thumbs-up or “teacher look,” if need be.  If you’ve perfected your teacher look as well as I have, this will be all that’s needed!  

Interested in learning more tips for helping your kids become truly engaged and independent readers?  Check out the other blog posts in this series, or consider joining my private FB group!  In the group, I have a video where I share ALL of my tips and resources (which go beyond the blog posts) about this.  Plus, it is a community full of supportive teachers and coaches, here to help with any and all literacy questions on your mind, 7 days a week!  

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these simple tips–and would really love to hear the results you see if you try them out!  DM me on Instagram, or better yet, share your results in my private FB group!

Related Posts:  Reading Logs that Actually Work, The Secret to Setting Up Your Library for Maximum Student Impact, Is Independent Reading Time a Waste of Time?, Engaging the Disengaged [Where to Begin] 

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