SIP 15.3 Supporting Students’ Engagement with Reading in Our Classrooms

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Student reading in the Center for Visual Arts.Reading is so last year. Or maybe so five years ago. One of the most frequent complaints that the SIPsquad hears is that students don’t complete their reading for class anymore. And frankly, we struggle with reading these days as well. Is it laziness or lack of interest in the material? Perhaps it is pandemic fatigue or brain fog or just the multitude of distractions (digital and otherwise) that interrupt our day? Bottom line, how can we help students make meaning of the material in our classes through reading?

Take a SIP of This: Supporting Students’ Engagement with Reading in our Classrooms

Contrary to common belief, our 21st-century students have not stopped reading. They continue to make sense of the world through words in print and in other modalities for pleasure and for learning in our courses. To do this, students have developed comprehension strategies that go along with the ways in which they are reading.

For those outside of the field of reading and literacy discourse, it is common to place blame or responsibility on technology and online “reading” (print and other modalities) for students’ apparent lack of engagement with reading in our classrooms. However, the move away from reading print-based texts in academic spaces is more complicated and complex than that. It is connected to multiple factors:

  1. The reader’s confidence in making meaning with the content in the text
  2. The reader’s interest in reading the text for learning purposes
  3. The reader’s meaning-making strategies to support the reading task
  4. The teacher’s practices in supporting the reader during the reading event and back in the classroom after the reading.

When it comes to reading to learn, the responsibility falls on the course instructor to support students’ confidence, interest and meaning-making strategies. Check out these tips to help you engage your students with reading in your classroom:

  • Ask students what they read and how they read it on the first day of class. It is important that this exercise be driven by genuine curiosity and that the students don’t feel shame about their answers. Establishing a good environment for reading at the beginning of your class can make the rest of the semester more successful.
  • With this information in hand, you can make decisions about instructional strategies that will support your students’ engagement with reading in your class, in print and in other modalities. When a reading assignment is given, invite students to make sense of the content with instructional strategies that support comprehension of the content and support the engagement of the reading.

Try these strategies*** in lieu of your traditional methods to enhance reader engagement in your class:

Graffiti board: Put a big sheet of paper on a table. Each group member takes a corner of the paper and writes and sketches their thoughts about the reading in a graffiti fashion. The responses, comments, sketches, quotes and connections are not organized. The major focus is on recording initial responses during or immediately after a reading.

Anomalies: Write down questions or ideas that surprise you about the reading. Once you finish reading, look back over your questions to identify the ones that you are still wondering about or that you wonder how others would respond to that question. Discuss the questions and generate new anomalies. This strategy would be particularly useful in STEM classrooms.

  • Ask students to consider their goals for reading in your class and to identify ways of achieving those goals. For example, some students may need to minimize distraction to read a print text with high comprehension, while others may need to play music in the background to boost their focus. Encourage students to reflect on their personal reading practices and adopt strategies to support them.
  • Partnering the reading with a quiz or writing a summary is an old practice but still widely used in classrooms in K-12 and in higher ed. So designing and providing other strategies of engagement (there are hundreds to choose from) is crucial.

This strategy*** can be helpful for assessing reading comprehension:

Save the last word for me (invitation; text-based response): As you read, note passages or quotes that catch your attention because they are interesting, powerful, confusing or contradictory and highlight them on your Reading Log (or other comprehension strategy). On another piece of paper, write your response or why you found that particular passage noteworthy. In the group, one person shares a quote (only) and the rest of the group briefly discusses their response to that quote. When the discussion dies down, the person who chose and provided the quote shares with the group why they chose it. That person has the last word, and the group then moves on to another person who shares a quote, starting the process again.

  • Lecturing about the reading material once students return to the classroom reinforces the belief that students don’t really need to read in the first place. More constructivist methods where students bring their ideas about the reading to classroom discussion will reinforce the students’ ownership of the reading and the significance of the content they’ve read. And such methods reinforce the relevance of students’ transactions with the reading, which builds confidence in and ownership of learning complex content in our courses.

Try this strategy*** to have students construct their own “reading guide” by identifying what they think are the most salient aspects of the reading:

Quotables: Choose several important quotes from the reading. During discussion/analysis, print your quote in 14-point or larger font size and staple it to the “Quotables” bulletin board. Be sure to cite the quote clearly on the front. We want to get there quickly during our discussion.

  • The meaning-making strategies that students use when reading for pleasure will often be similar to those used when making meaning out of your course content. Students may have a high level of confidence in their meaning-making strategies when they read for pleasure, so make that skill transferable by asking students to reflect on their personal strategies and how they use them when reading more challenging texts. For example, many students continue to use a highlighter when reading content texts, often highlighting the majority of the pages in the book/article. This means they will have to reread all of that highlighted text. Instead of highlighting, students can be guided to annotate in the margins of their books (or on sticky notes they can attach to the pages) and note connections they are making between the ideas and (1) their lives/lived experiences (text-to-self), (2) other texts they have read in and out of the content they are learning in your class (text-to-text) and (3) world events/situations/social constructs that are relevant from the student’s perspective (text-to-world).

*** The strategies listed in this section come from Short, K.G.; Harste, J. and Burke, C. (1996) “Discussion Strategies for Literacy,” Heinemann.

Still thirsty? Take another SIP of supporting students’ engagement with reading in our classrooms

If you have time in your class, start the semester by having your students write a literacy biography. Students can articulate and share how they learned to read and the significance of reading in their lives as well as the struggles they have experienced in their lives and, quite possibly, continue to experience as college students. This may help you design and guide literary instruction in your classroom, embracing how human beings read the word and the world (Freire, 1987).

  • Shor, I. and Freyre, P. (1987) “A Pedagogy for Liberation,” Greenwood Publishing Group.


And check out these related SIPs that are archived at The Well:

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