Are we teaching for compliance or engagement?

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51vLk92FYEL._SX410_BO1,204,203,200_ When thinking about student engagement as I started reading Ellin Keene’s newest book Engaging Children: Igniting a Drive for Deeper Learning, I started to think about how I engage with people. Am I truly present in conversations with my wife and children. At times I admit I may appear to be listening with intention, however I am really being compliant, not fully mentally present. I am not truly engaged anticipating what might occur next, creating new background knowledge, asking questions, showing intense focus and concentration towards the topic of discussion and trying to apply what we are talking about in a new or interesting way to help solve a problem or give insight. That is what we want when we have conversations with people, right? I actually ask a lot of questions, but my questions tend to fall short of the intended focus of the conversation and often frustrate my friends and family.

As an adult if I am not always mentally present and engaged then I know my students aren’t as well. I can realize this and choose to engage or re-engage in the conversation. What Keene is talking about in her book is more than just being mentally present. Engagement goes deeper than being present. Motivation helps you be mentally present, but is still not engagement. I want to be engaged when having conversations more with friends and family and can make a conscious effort to do so. I want my students to be engaged in their reading, not simply be compliant. Can we teach kids to choose to be engaged. Keene believes we can. I can’t wait to dig deeper into this book and hear her ideas on how.

I believe the way we teach, model and set kids up for problem solving and create an environment for reading, all impact how engaged our kids are in classrooms. When you put all your focus on skills, strategies and assessment, or setting performance goals only, then you are often setting up for compliance over engagement. I know this is not our intention, but we have to think about these things.

I wonder if students are really engaged enough to understand the true meaning of the text they are reading and breathe their own thinking into it or more often are they being compliant and doing the strategies and reading tasks. Is that enough?

I have talked a lot about the true meaning of reading which is not to do a strategy or to show a skills which we have unintentionally set students up to think of as the purpose of reading sometimes because we have become so focused on teaching and evaluating kids on skills and use of strategies.

Keene does a great job of describing a time when she was fully engaged and asks her readers to do the same thing. She discussed the differences between engagement, motivation (external and internal), participation and compliance. Engagement requires more than doing a strategy. It would be impossible to keep kids fully engaged every minute of the schools day and Keene acknowledges this. Just like when we are going through our day we cannot be expected to be completely engaged in every conversation, especially when sometimes we start a conversation or acknowledge another individual purely out politeness. It happens!


I think we should strive for more engagement than we currently do. This would help put a focus back on reading for meaning and to learn something about life, people or society that we can use to help us grow as human beings when reading. It has to go beyond practicing and assessing reading skills and strategies. Those things have their place but they cannot over shadow true authentic reading.  I am very intrigued by this book and can’t wait to finish it and learn more about engagement.

I am interested in seeing how helping kids become more engaged could affect reading and writing conferences. I know some reading and writing conferences have become all about assessing a skill or strategy more so than authentic reading. So as I finish up this book I will continue to ask myself do I want to be teaching for compliance or try to get kids really engaged in their reading. I know my answer! Do you? If so be thinking about what you can shift in your teaching and definitely read this book.

Keene’s take on engagement makes me think about Rosenblatt’s (1938/1995, 1978) transactional theory of reader response. She says readers must interact with a text, open themselves up to living through it.  She describes how the words on the printed page take meaning from the intellectual and emotional context the reader provides. The reader breathes life into an authors text is how I like to think about it. You have to be engaged to do that and not be focused on doing a skill or strategy itself, although those are important. This give me lots to ponder and hopefully you as well.


Author: Troy F

Reading Specialist & NBCT in Literacy. Academic Coach for online Graduate classes.

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