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.

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