Engage your K-5 Students with These 5 Reading Tips

Engage your K-5 Students with These 5 Reading Tips

Engaging students in meaningful conversations about what they are reading is so important in helping students get the most out of instructional time. Getting students engaged in reading and talking about what they are reading will encourage them to develop deeper comprehension skills, practice higher-level critical thinking skills and make connections with the text and each other. Several studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between behavioral engagement and achievement-related outcomes for elementary and high school students (Connell, Spencer & Aber, 1994; Marks, 2000; Newmann et al., 1992; Skinner, Wellborn, & Connell, 1990).

So what exactly is an engaged reader?

An engaged reader actively thinks about what they are reading- absorbing, reflecting and predicting. They are involved at a deep level and motivation is inherent. In this article you will find tips that will help you create a more engaging, student-centered approach in your classroom, while also maintaining structure.

What studies show

girlAs educators, we know that home influence plays a large role in students’ reading habits as well as motivation, and that many children enter the classroom at a disadvantage because of this. Research has found that helping students become more engaged with reading while at school can have a significant impact on their overall reading habits and skills. This is supported by a study done in 1999 by Guthrie and Schafer that was a secondary analysis of 1994 NAEP data:

Guthrie and Schafer (1999) found that engaged readers have much better text comprehension and reading achievement than do disengaged readers. Beyond that simple fact, however, engaged reading can overcome major obstacles to achievement. For example, low levels of education in the family and low income usually pose obstacles to reading achievement. Students with less-educated mothers nearly always score lower in reading comprehension than students whose mothers have more education. However, Guthrie and Schafer found that engaged readers who had mothers with a low level of education achieved more highly than disengaged readers who had highly educated mothers.  For example, a student with a less-educated mother who reads “almost every day” for enjoyment has a better reading achievement and text comprehension than a student who reads “never or hardly ever” but has a mother who is highly educated. A similar relation occurs for engaged reading and income. Low-income students (receiving free or reduced-price lunch) who were engaged readers scored highly on achievement tests. These engaged readers were comparable in text comprehension to students with higher income (not receiving free or reduced-price lunch), but who were disengaged readers (Baker, Dreher, Guthrie, 2000).

Studies like this demonstrate how significant a teacher’s influence can be on a child’s view towards reading.

Show genuine interest

Teacher laughing with studentAs a teacher I find it easy to get caught up in the motions and not take the time to truly engage students in a deep, meaningful conversation about what we just read. It’s understandable to try to increase the engagement of your entire class by moving quickly through post-reading questions. However, I’ve found that jumping from student to student and question to question tends to lead to less interesting dialogue and poorer engagement. This results in your students feeling a lack of interest on your part. Remember: quality over quantity. Your students desire not only to be heard, but to feel listened to. You can show them that you are listening to them by taking notes and asking specific follow-up questions. I promise you that if you do this, your students will feel valued, be more likely to share, and will give their answers much more thought.

“Heart connections”

Another way to show your genuine interest, is to encourage students to draw connections from the literature to their personal lives. These personal associations, often referred to as “heart connections,”  animate the readings and make them more relatable to students. This method will drive higher amounts of quality discussions with students while decreasing mediocre student answers. Because of time constraints, only a few students will be able to share out loud. This is why I recommend utilizing partner shares and written reflections to hold all students accountable and give everyone a chance to share their thoughts in some way.

Ask open-ended questions

Open-ended questions are questions that don’t have a right or wrong answer, which makes kids feel more comfortable engaging in conversation.  Open-ended questions also encourage more than just yes or no responses and provide the opportunity for a real conversation to be had. Some examples of book related open-ended questions are:

  1. Which characters in the books would you like to meet in real life?
  2. What part of the book did you think was the most exciting?
  3. How would you change the book’s ending if you could rewrite it?
  4. If you could be a character in the book for one day, who would you chose to be and why?
  5. If you could be friends with any character in the book, who would you like to be friends with and why?
  6. What do you think the author wanted us to take away from this book?
  7. Would you read other books from this author? Why or why not?
  8. Is there anything in this story that is similar to something that has happened in your life?  What was it and how is it familiar?
  9. Did any of the characters remind you of someone?
  10. Would this book make a cool movie? Video game? TV show? Why or why not?

You can always further extend questions by asking, “Why?” or “Tell me more.” If a student responds to a question by saying, “I don’t know,” you can respond by saying, “Well let’s think about it.”  Saying “I don’t know” might just be a reflex for the student, in which case just give them some time to think without pressuring them! If a student gives a short answer, you can say things like, “Tell me more about that” or “What led you to that answer/belief?”

Projects related to reading

Some young students get so nervous when the class is having a discussion. Which means that even though they may have some great questions in mind or answers to contribute, they are too shy or anxious to raise their hand, or may freeze up when the attention is on them. Combating an environment of anxiety starts with you, the reading guide. You can create a more casual setting for students to discuss reading by having them create brochures about where their book took place, write a letter as their character, create a board game, book board or poster about their book, create a test about the book(including answer sheet), write an advertisement to encourage other children to want to read the book or have students bring stories to life by creating a 3-D scene from their book. Projects on reading give students time to think and reflect on their thoughts on the reading and present them in an orderly fashion that makes sense to them.

Reflection Time

I know this one is a tough one. When you ask a question, give your students ample time to gather their thoughts and reflect. This is also a great opportunity for students to share feedback with their peers or in a small group before responding to the question to the whole class. As a teacher, it can feel uncomfortable waiting in silence, but students will greatly benefit from this reflection time. By allowing them to think of  meaningful responses that will spark an engaging dialogue, everyone wins.

Student

One way to maximize reflection time is to ask your students to write their initial thoughts about the post-reading questions on a mini journal/notepad. Then have them break up into mini groups of 3-4 and share what they wrote down. The group can then share with the class what they discovered after conversing in their groups. Not only does this exercise encourage everyone to speak up, it also promotes collaboration and teamwork! I strongly recommend talking to your students about what reflection time is, and why it is important. I’ve found that explaining the benefits of reflection time makes students feel engaged and empowered.

Make it fun

If you make book discussions fun and engaging it will calm your students’ nerves and make the discussion less formal and more inviting. Below are a few ideas to spice up book discussions:

  1. Games that include questions about the reading are a great way to facilitate book discussions in a fun way. I’ve seen this done by creating a board game, dice game and even common reading questions written on a beach ball that you toss around the class and have students choose a question about the story to answer.
  2. If you’re starting a new book, it might be fun to add some decorations to the classroom that are related to the book or dress up like a character from the reading.
  3. Having other staff members at your school be a part of bringing a story to life really adds to the fun and also helps build community. With younger students, I’ve had our principal, secretary, school specialists and parents deliver mail, messages or packages to our class from characters from our stories.  I’ve also seen guests dress up as characters and come to a classroom for a Q&A session with students.
  4. Game show or trivia game – create questions related to reading, form teams and maybe even have some prizes!
  5. Change where you read – the school garden, field in the schoolyard, school library or perhaps a nearby park.
  6. Plan field trip around reading – if the story took place somewhere you are able to bring your students(or somewhere somewhat similar) this is a great opportunity to connect your students to the reading and their community.

Learn how BookNook helps engage young readers:

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Research

Baker, L., Dreher, M., Guthrie, J. (2000). Engaging Young Readers: Promoting Achievement and Motivation. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Connell, J. P., Spencer, M. B., & Aber, J. L. (1994). Educational risk and resilience in African American youth: Context, self, action, and outcomes in school. Child Development, 65, 493-506.

Marks, H. M. (2000). Student engagement in instructional activity: Patterns in the elementary, middle, and high school years. American Educational Research Journal, 37, 153-184.

Newmann, F., Wehlage, G.G., & Lamborn, S. D. (1992). The significance and sources of student  engagement. In F. Newmann (Ed.), Student engagement and achievement in American secondary schools (pp. 11-39). New York: Teachers College Press.

Skinner, E. A., Wellborn, J. G., & Connell, J. P. (1990). What is takes to do well in school and whether I’ve got it: The role of perceived control in children’s engagement and school

achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 22-32.

University of Washington: Center of Teaching and Learning. Engaging Students in Learning.

Retrieved from: https://www.washington.edu/teaching/teaching-resources/engaging-students-in-learning/

For further reading on this subject, check out the below articles:

How to Encourage Students to Read for Pleasure: Teachers Share Their Top Tips

Let’s Stop With the Worksheets and Create Engaged Learners

Tell Us More: Reading Comprehension, Engagement and Conceptual Press Discourse

A Day in the Life of a BookNook Reading Guide

A Day in the Life of a BookNook Reading Guide

Ciara Joseph – People Ops at BookNook and Reading Guide Extraordinaire

I want to live a day in the life of a Reading Guide…

That’s what I found myself countlessly saying when I started my PeopleOps journey at BookNook.  I heard great things about our application that was created to support children’s reading. I was shown how it was being used in local schools, but needed to see it all happen in the flesh.  I had far too many questions. I was emailing and calling colleagues to find out more details about how our program worked, but still didn’t have a solid picture in my mind of what exactly a reading guide’s purpose was.

I wanted to live a day in the life of a reading guide. Just one day was all I thought I needed to gain a better understanding of what they actually did. That one day led to months of 45-minute sessions, genuine conversations, newfound respect for school officials, and a sad farewell.

My reading guide journey began in January. Buena Vista-Horace Mann needed a reading guide early mornings on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Because we have a great employee volunteer program, I decided that this would be a great way for me to help out in our community. My manager agreed, and the next day I headed over to BVHM to shadow another reading guide. 

The minute I entered the school I was reminded of my own elementary school.

It smelled the same, the people there looked familiar, the sounds of laughter and mix of English and Spanish filled the halls and school yard.  I was taken aback by a feeling – or a thought – that this is where I’m intended to be. In this very same school, on this day, at this time, a voice in my head just said “This is where you’re meant to be.”  I didn’t understand it, I thought maybe I was just overwhelmed with the happiness I felt from others at the school and was just happy to be somewhere that felt good. I met a few teachers that day along with the school coordinator and office administrators. Everyone greeted me as “Maestra” (Teacher). I remember feeling uneasy, because I hadn’t gained that level of respect yet. Also, I wasn’t actually a teacher, I was just an HR person volunteering at a school. But, I went along with it. I greeted other teachers in the same respectful manner and spoke to those I met about BookNook and our purpose at the school.  

Serving as a reading guide came naturally to me. I’m an avid reader and was excited to see how our app tracked each student’s reading development. As a mom of a 10 year old, I was happy that I’d be reading with students that were around my daughter’s age. The students were all shy to meet me and had many questions about the previous reading guide and why they had missed sessions. I explained the circumstances and how I’d be reading with them until I hired someone for the position.  Never did I think I’d get to spend the rest of the school year working with them. While the months passed, I unknowingly started to bond with the students during our reading sessions and that was something too that I didn’t foresee.

My early mornings started with my daughter and I commuting on BART from Oakland to San Francisco. The greatest thing about these mornings were that we’d have enough time to grab a cup of lavender tea and a danish from Cafe la Boheme right before school started for the both of us. If the weather was nice, we’d take our time walking down the streets of The Mission District and then up the hills of Noe Valley until it was time for us to part ways.

I was very enthusiastic on these mornings, to say the least. Knowing that I was in the same vicinity as my child, could walk her to school, then teach at a school in the same neighborhood I was raised in, ignited something in me. It somehow seemed to satisfy a thirst for something I never knew existed.

When arriving to BVHM, I’d sign in for the day, then checkout iPads from the school’s lab room. I’d then head to the assigned classroom I was to teach at that day. On Tuesdays, I had the pleasure of using Mr. Frank’s classroom. I now realize that I don’t even know the teachers by their last names. Another great thing about the school is most of the teachers go by first names and allow their students to address them as such. Cool teachers, very cool!

Mr. Frank reminded me of an older cousin. Very down to earth, passionate about teaching and making a difference in the community, funny, and full of life. I’d see him often outside of the classroom, walking the halls and chatting with staff or giving advice to past students of his while keeping a smile on his face and having a few laugh out loud moments. It was apparent to me that Mr. Frank was definitely someone the whole school knew and adored.

On Thursdays, I held reading sessions in the ever so popular, Mira’s classroom.

Mira, was the teacher that kids would come in before school just to see. The classroom was inviting. There was a special zen about Mira’s room that made me feel naturally at ease the minute I saw the succulents that covered the window panes and the cotton braided rug laid out on the floor. Student’s artwork filled the walls along with posters that made me think, “Wow, this teacher is Woke!” -Woke is an African American Vernacular English expression referring to an individual’s perceived or continued awareness regarding social and racial justice issues.

I noticed the attention to detail she put into classroom rules and daily lesson plans that also filled the room. I enjoyed seeing how she translated plans into Spanish and hearing how she spoke compassionately to parent’s in their native tongue.

Though I didn’t get much free time to chit chat with both teachers during reading sessions, I was happy to have had a few good short conversations with them before and after sessions. They both spoke openly about their love for teaching and how rewarding their role was at BVHM. They spoke highly of their students and special events going on at the school. They were all around very welcoming and complete advocates for the youth. Seeing how they spoke to students and how they treated them and their family reassured me that I was in the right place.

My students were split into two groups. My first group started at 8:00am and I was joined by two fourth grade boys. Those two boys were usually my caffeine shots in the morning. They came in with so much character, and Tuesdays served as the informative, “tell me what’s been up” days. We’d share stories before reading, going around a small table, sharing what we did over the weekend or what’s been going on during the week. Our conversations would go from English to Spanish and I’d find myself resorting to English everytime I forgot how to say a certain word in Spanish. Each time, they’d help put me right back on track! Later in the school year we were joined by two more students who added a nice dynamic to our early reading sessions. My second group would join me at 8:45am and was a nice mix of students from different grades. They too kept me on my toes with stories we’d share and them letting me know what new fads were in, or what popular video games I should be playing.

I was surprised to see how natural reading was for them. I was happy to see them take the lead and volunteer to read first, stop to help another reader, or offer words of encouragement to their classmates. They came in each morning eager to read, eager to learn, and eager to teach and learn from one another. We spoke openly after reading sessions and shared our true thoughts on the material we read and the overall layout of the application. The students were never shy to tell me what they enjoyed or disliked about the program and I was happy to know they were comfortable doing so. While reading, we focused often on expression and comprehension. Students who at one point were reading almost robotically slowly started to express the true nature of the sentences they were reading. They started to sit higher in their chairs. Sharpening their voices, clearing their throat before it was their turn. Some even took on voice impersonations and narrated as if they were performing a show for all to see. This too brought a sense of joy to me, to see kids on their own acting while learning and gaining a new level of confidence while doing that. When we worked on comprehension, we focused on explaining the story in our own words and then pulling pieces from one another’s perspective of the story. We answered questions together and talked about parts we may have not understood, then would go back and reread the page together for more clarity.

Through the months I was able to closely monitor each student’s reading and leveling results. I was happy to see that all of my students were making progress and reading at higher levels than when they started. The reward I felt in being there just twice a week has been huge and has greatly impacted me. I’ve gained a better understanding of the importance of not only reading, but having a reading guide available when needed. It’s taught me the true importance of having teachers in classrooms, teacher’s aides to help when needed, and volunteers that can step in when teachers are out stretched. Though I was only at BVHM for five months, I left feeling like part of the faculty there. The students and staff left an everlasting impression on me and as the school year ends, I’ll be sad to no longer be there.

Yet, I’m hopeful for the future and looking forward to crossing paths with everyone there again and hope to be able to volunteer there some time soon.

Guiding Your Student to Success: Effectively Using Talking Points and Discussion Questions

Guiding Your Student to Success: Effectively Using Talking Points and Discussion Questions

This is the 1st post in our new series: “Guide your Students to Success” that will explain how to best use the instructional components within BookNook.

Asking questions that will lead your students to higher levels of comprehension and being more critical learners is not easy. Educators spend a lot of time crafting questions that utilize Bloom’s taxonomy lead their students from being able to recall information all the way up to be able to higher order skills of evaluating and creating. With BookNook’s built in talking points and discussion questions that have been designed by educators, you can ask effective questions using dialogic reading techniques that will increase your students’ comprehension of each text and make your sessions full of energy and student talk time.

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