Engaging all students in active, thinking, reading is vital. Dr. John Guthrie describes engaged reading as "a merger of motivation and thoughtfulness," and that is a perfect place to begin. Centering reading around student interests, motivation, and self-concept is how we give every student a reason to read.
Being motivated and thoughtful about reading starts with read-alouds. In fact, Lucy Calkins (The Art of Teaching Reading) calls engagement in the text "the single most important habit we need to model in read alouds." Read-alouds easily lead to think-alouds, student-driven conversations. They also are critical for reaching reluctant readers who need practice in activating thinking without expending all their energy translating squiggles on the page.
Even the simplest texts can encourage active engagement. Guide students to
You also can engage students by:
Knowing/respecting who they are. When teachers lose sight of individuals and their potential, engagement suffers. Understanding different learning styles, interests, peer interaction, and motivation can move students from passivity to an active, stimulating approach. Give students active roles in setting expectations and purposes to help them connect to text.
Integrating real world experiences into learning. One study Dr. Guthrie conducted -- Does Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction Increase Strategy Use and Conceptual Learning From Text -- found "that reading instruction, when embedded within a hands-on science curriculum, increased reading comprehension, strategy use, and problem solving in third and fifth graders."
Mesmerizing them daily with a story. Use picture books, a guest speaker, and print news or Internet articles to spark learning. A short read-aloud can invite children to examine print, discuss the words and ideas in a book, and relate them to the world beyond. Marilyn Jager Adams says, "At its best, sharing books provides a way of delighting children both in texts and in their own capacity to explore and learn from them."
Being an engaged teacher. If teachers are engaged, students will mirror that enthusiasm. Use such think-aloud strategies as prediction and one called "stop, ask, fix" as Jeffrey Wilhelm suggests in Improving Comprehension with Think Aloud Strategies. Don't think computers are a substitute. Even Phil Pflaum, writing for an education technology magazine, T.H.E. Journal, emphasizes an equation of "Kid + Computer + An Engaged Teacher = Learning. In other words, the teacher, not the computer, is key."
Lucy Calkins is the perfect model for teaching engaged reading. She suggests making a dramatic break from simple knowledge acquisition, and taking children to higher thinking levels (analysis and evaluation) -- and she tells us just how to do it.
Can't we simply say, "Can we talk about the reactions the children in this book had to the main character?" and then back out of the conversation -- leaving space for students to comment and elaborate on one another's comments -- instead of acting as masters of ceremonies?
Let students become a stronger part of conversation. At first, simply encourage them to talk to anyone sitting nearby. After a few weeks, assign them to sit beside the same read-aloud partner each day. Long-term read-aloud partnerships allow children to say things like, "You know how yesterday you said such and such? Well, it's happening still," or, "It's the same as before!"
Before long, you'll be able to pause at a key section of the text and look at the students, who'll note the signal and get knee-to-knee with partners. The room will erupt in conversation. After a few minutes, you'll simply resume reading aloud or reading in pairs as voices subside."
That is engaging children in reading at its best.