Slice of Life: What Keeps Us Reading

I had a conversation with a colleague last week in the lunch room. She’s new to a grade level and was disturbed by the limited engagement she saw in her readers.

And it made me think. How often does maintaining or finding engagement in a book enter my lessons?

Engagement is something that’s addressed at the beginning of the year, perhaps revisited after a break. Sort of like classroom management. I teach a few lessons on it and then, off we go to what really matters, finding theme, main idea and supporting evidence.

But. Is that what really matters? Doesn’t all start and end with engagement? We talk about the need for reading lots of books. But for some, reading is like taking their vitamins or eating vegetables. With the winter break looming, I have cause to worry. If students aren’t engaged in reading, why would they pick up a book when they are out of school. What really matters when they walk out the door on Friday?

This being said, when and how are students engaged in reading in my classroom?  How deeply? Where are the weaknesses?  When reading workshop happens, are they engaged throughout the period?  Throughout a book?  We work towards specific reading goals. But do we work toward maintaining engagement?

Yesterday, I set students up to answer some of these questions. Their mission was to “watch” themselves as readers. To notice when they became disengaged. Students placed post-its on pages where they “lost it.”

And I watched them.

After twenty minutes, most had a few post-its dangling out of their texts, and I asked them to think about their work and share their findings.

Times of engagement:

  • the subject matter
  • action
  • humor
  • amazing ideas
  • problems/tension
  • surprising moments/changes/twists
  • secrets
  • dialogue
  • When you have the character’s perspective in mind
  • When you can imagine the place
  • When you can’t put the book down
  • When you know more than the character knows
  • When you don’t want to read anything else

And disengagement:

  • when there was detailed description
  • when the problem was solved or there was no apparent problem
  • when nothing was happening

These observations came as no surprise to me.  But more importantly, the students recognized these moments for themselves.

The beauty of this is how it stirs up more questions.

What do readers do when they hit the inevitable moments of disengagement?

When the tension declines, the problem is solved, or there is a descriptive passage without the presence of action and drama, what does a reader do?

Fortunately, we have tomorrow and the rest of the year to explore disengaging moments. To discover, find the value in or to understand these moments and how to approach them in literature and informational text.

Finding the right book matters. Finding ways to maintain engagement throughout a book matters. Finding the theme and evidence to support will be much more likely once we find ourselves wanting to find time for a book.

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. A place to share our writing and our lives. Thank you, Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Deb, Kathleen, Stacey, and Tara. Find more slices here.










11 thoughts on “Slice of Life: What Keeps Us Reading

  1. What a great issue to keep thinking about.
    Reading like writing demands time and conversation and modeling.
    No quick fixes
    Just time to read collectively
    Write when it’s exciting, when it fades and sharing…
    Writing should be a community experience
    Maybe reading too
    Happy holidays Julieann

  2. I think you hit the proverbial nail on the head with this: Doesn’t all start and end with engagement? Yes. It’s the habit of knowing how to find a book that will sing, and then getting lost in it.

  3. It seems that you will help this in your students’ reading by starting them thinking about it. One of the big issues for my students of ‘dis-engagement’ was misconception. They (middle school age) already had chosen the path of “what they liked” & “what they stayed away from”. Breaking that mold through book groups or sharing different kinds of read-alouds helped, but some seemed so stuck. You bring up such good queries, Julieanne.

    • Becoming a ‘good’ reader is a constant challenge. It’s such a dance. Interest in other areas /genres need to be fostered. Shows the necessity of read aloud and social interaction to grope reading identity.

  4. I love how thoughtful you are about everything you do! I want my students to set reading goals for the holidays. We’ll see. Should I offer incentive? I didn’t tell them over the Thanksgiving break but I surprised them with NCTE swag if they completed a book. I know in my heart it shouldn’t be about the incentive, so maybe there is a way to “Celebrate Reading” when they return.

  5. I love the way you brought the students in on the thinking through this issue. They need to be aware of what’s happening while they are reading. They needed to discover the answers. This is a great start for them to ponder.

  6. Julieanne, you always provide a lot for me to think about in the best of ways! This year, I’ve been on a quest to increase reading engagement and have students actually enjoy reading. I think in many ways it has worked but not for everyone and I still have lingering questions. Brain is fuzzy now after a long day but I’m going to keep thinking on this one! 🙂

  7. The first line of your fourth paragraph…
    I love this post, as I love all of your posts, because you make me stop and think. And when I finish thinking I have ideas about things I could do better as a teacher. Thank you Julieanne.

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