I recently had a group of 3rd grade students who had started to become disengaged in their reading. We had just returned from spring break and they were well, not engaged! I was deeply frustrated! So, what did I do? I reflected! On my own practice and on student strengths and needs. Also about the texts I was choosing. All of this impacts engagement and motivation. I also thought about how the students classroom instruction had changed. Students were 3 weeks aways from taking their first state assessment. Classrooms switched to test prep activities that changed what their teaching.
My initial concern was kids distracting each other. When one student finished reading before the others and became a distraction. This is not always an issue if you are able to group kids who read close to the same rate, but groupings do not always work out perfectly & kids grow at different rates. After reflecting I came up with a game plan. I focused on what I could do proactively to help keep students engaged.
The next day I led them in a discussion about our goals as readers, and how we could best use our time to meet those goals. Note, I said I led a discussion, they did most of the thinking and talking. I did not want this to be about me, but about them as learners. We discussed what expectations they had for themselves and what they felt my expectations were for them. This helped them refocus themselves without me lecturing them. I purposefully directed the conversation towards the purpose of reading. We discussed what they could do as readers if they finish reading a section of text and the rest of us are still hard at work. They came up with lots of good ideas, while I nudged them towards some others.
We discussed rereading of course. To keep kids engaged as they reread they really need a purpose for reading however. A student in this group had an “ah ha” moment a few weeks prior that I used as a teaching point to help kids understand the importance of rereading and how it can deepen our understanding. So, we talked about rereading with a purpose in mind. Rereading to figure out a confusing point or something they didn’t understand. We discussed rereading to answer a question, and to see if we might have missed a key detail. We talked about rereading to find an important detail they want to share and to mark it with a sticky-note or highlight it if appropriate. Or to flag an idea they want to talk about and clarify. These are things you may ask kids to do when rereading with a purpose on day 2 or day 3 of your guided reading lesson, but you don’t always have to wait. After all you have students in your groups for very brief moments of time, utilize it!
I incorporated more opportunities for student talk around what they were discovering when engaged in their reading. This helped bring more student to student interactions and student/teacher interactions. These interactions were both teacher and student initiated.
We are continuing to review using our time wisely every day in group and it has helped tremendously. Students are not distracting each other as much anymore. When they do it, it is sometimes in reaction to something they noticed in the text! They are also reading to share, or lead a discussion about something they noticed in the book, something missed the first time they read. They are having more authentic ah ha moments and figuring more out on their own. This is what we strive for, right!
In a recent blog post Sunday Cummins talks about the concept of reading multiple sources about the same topic. A concept sometimes called Reading Ladders. This is an idea a colleague and I dug into a little bit last school year when conducting an action research study on student motivation. We found it very motivating for students.
Here is a link to Sunday’s blog post: https://sundaycummins.wordpress.com/2018/04/01/our-students-know-so-little-if/
Anyway, she describes her natural desire to want to know more about a topic and how students have that desire too. We need to utilize that desire with students. I think first we need to get students to be willing to dig deeper into their original source more closely and extract all the information they can! This will lead them on a more focused journey for information through other sources. The journey Sunday is talking about in the mentioned blog post above. This brings up the need to be using appropriate texts with enough depth to keep their attention and stretch their thinking. Especially in stages: Early, Transitional and Fluent.
I argue that reading instruction can and should be more interactive to promote engagement and hold it. Students naturally want to read more to discover more or to find out what happens!
What are your thoughts!
Remember this blog is a way for me to reflect, grow and continue to refine my practice. Hopefully it helps others as well. Idea’s and thoughts are always welcome!