Gaining Ground: Reader Engagement

Posted on March 3, 2019


In my last post about teaching ELA12 readers, I wrote, “I hope that the urge for the social connection that is so strong in teens will inspire them join the circle of people talking about books.”

I am seeing some success!  After two weeks of seeing only a handful of students complete the Signpost assignment for their week’s independent reading by the due date: 4/24 & 6/24, the majority–16/21 (w/ 3 absent)–completed it on time this week! Several students who arrived with the assignment done called out to ask, “Are we having talking circle today, ms. eddy?”

“No,” I answered. “We’re working on your portfolio today, but I’m going to collect and grade your work, and we’ll discuss it tomorrow. Anyone who hands in the assignment today will be able to participate in talking circle tomorrow.” With this statement, I create a sense of gentle pressure to perform AND an opportunity to succeed, even if students aren’t ready today–and they should be. I am rewarding approximation; the group is moving toward meeting my expectations for their independent reading practices.

I make a mental note that a handful of students are making public statements that they have done their work and are ready to talk about their books! I am glad for the positive peer pressure they’re creating for their classmates.

I direct the students’ attention to the prompt on the screen for the talking circle. As I discussed in my last post, I need to combine the types of thinking required for Independent Reading with those required for the Research unit to try to make up for losing nine days of instruction to weather-related school closings. With this in mind, I post this prompt:

Identify a quote on your Signpost sheet that expresses a perspective on a social issue. When it’s your turn to speak, identify the title and author, and the social issue. Read the quote, tell who is speaking, and briefly state the perspective represented by the quote.

I demonstrate how to succeed at talking circle with my Signposts from Ruth Ozeki’s All Over Creation. I read my quote, which is from a farmer who has realized the ecological damage created by production farming practices. I explain that the quote expresses a conservationist perspective–a farmer who wants to limit and repair ecological damage through his work on the land.

Then, before they turn their attention to their reflective essay on their development as readers, I encourage them to practice for talking circle when their papers are returned–and, if they need help preparing–to ask me, and I will help them find their way.

With this discussion task, students are practicing being able to recognize and summarize perspectives on social issues, a key skill in the research project they’ll start next week. By selecting a quote, they practice evaluating evidence; and by speaking, they practice expressing their own perspectives.

As I collect their papers, I rejoice at the significant rise in my students’ level of engagement with their reading. The percentage of assignments completed has risen from 16%, to 25%, to 76%! Go, team! 

While there are other factors at play: the end of the trimester is at hand, graduation depends on passing this class, and we’ve had an uninterrupted week of school–the facts seem to suggest that something–perhaps the urge to participate in a social activity–has caused a significant increase in student engagement.

I may not know exactly what combination of factors are at play here, but I do know that student success is increasing. More students are increasing their literacy levels.

As I enter their scores in the computer, I realize that I’m excited to hear what they’ll say in talking circle. I can see that some of them are, too. It feels like a win.

Other Posts In This Series:

Part 1–Reader’s Workshop in Senior ELA : A Journey of Discovery

Part 2–Returning to Reading Research

Part 3–10 Books, 24 Hours: Winter Break Reading Challenge

Part 4–Assessing Independent Reading

Part 5–As Your English Teacher, I Declare: A Villanelle

Part 6–Talking Circles For Assessment, Instruction, & Motivation in ELA12