Reading engagement can be defined as being fully immersed (intellectually and emotionally) in a text. It is one of those terms that is often discussed in educational circles, but whose importance is often treated as a given, and which can easily take a back burner to the many other demands on teachers’ time and energy. When it comes right down to it though, engagement with a text is one of the most vital aspects of effectively teaching literature. Today let’s not take reading engagement for granted; instead, let’s discuss some of why engagement is so vitally important to successful reading and learning.
Internalization and Memory
One of the primary reasons that we teach literature is to have students internalize the messages, situations, and lessons of a text—what can we learn from the story itself, the situations and outcomes the characters face, and the way in which the author tells us these things? How can we apply these things to our own lives and the world in which we live? The mental and emotional attachment that engaged readers form with a text not only helps to guarantee the internalization of these lessons, but it also helps these lessons stand the test of time—students will remember them not just for the test, but often for long after they have finished your class.
Students who have developed intellectual and emotional connections to a text are much more likely to engage in substantive and meaningful ways with class discussions and activities, making these things both more effective and more enjoyable for the whole class. Consider this: a student is much more likely to think deeply about the character’s development if that student cares what happens to that character. Consider also: a class discussion is a whole lot more fun and impactful when many students participate willingly and independently than when a teacher must call on and force responses from bored and indifferent students. Engagement is critical.
Willing to Work for It
Students who are engaged with a text are much more willing to work to read advanced and/or difficult texts. Though the example is a few years old, consider the number of students who read way above their reading level to successfully complete the Harry Potter books or the Twilight series. During the height of the frenzies for these books, it was not uncommon to see students reading two and three levels above their norm as they eagerly devoured these books. Finding ways to tap into this sort of passion and engagement can help your students successfully complete difficult texts in your literature classroom. Studies show that students will work hard to read a text above their current reading level if they find it enjoyable and engaging.
The Enjoyment Factor
Anyone who has completed a university degree knows the pain of being forced to read something in which they are not interested. Whereas a book that you enjoy flies by and leaves you thinking about the characters and stories for days, weeks, and years after the final page. Whereas a book that you just can’t get into drags on and you are more likely to remember what you had for a snack while reading than any of the words on the page. Reading engagement is crucial to reading enjoyment, and at least a certain level of reading enjoyment is part and parcel to reading success.
These are just a few of the reasons why reading engagement is so important to cultivate in your students. As you develop your lessons and curriculum, be sure to design them to create and encourage it. By treating it as the vital component that it is, your students will find much more success with their reading and your class.
Are you interested in learning more about reading engagement in the middle school classroom? I have created an online course all about this topic. Teachers can learn about this important topic right from the comfort of their couch. Click here to learn more.