"I don't care if you read, just make sure you are quiet!" This oft-spoken edict teaches some students that independent reading or Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) is more about allowing the teacher to get work done than about digging into great text. Students who love to read will sink into a text while those who try to please the teacher, but lack a passion for reading, will grab any text and abide. Others may not get this far. They learn a litany of avoidance tactics--going to the bookshelf, using the restroom, staring at the pages--that help meet the teacher's criteria of silence, but take the place of engaged reading.
One outcome of these issues has been that many educators view independent reading as a waste of time and therefore have dropped it from many classrooms. Instead of ditching it, doesn't it make more sense to address the problems with independent reading? Although this can seem daunting, it is doable. We provide here a rationale for facilitating reading engagement, describe types of readers found in many classrooms, and offer tools and tips to differentiate and enhance independent reading based on our action research project that resulted in a restyled and effective independent reading block (Kelley & Clausen-Grace, 2006).
Engagement is the level of cognitive involvement that a person invests in a process (Guthrie et al., 1996; Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000). At the highest levels, the learner submerges in the task--mentally, emotionally, and even physically. At the lowest levels, the learner is barely aware of the task. Without engagement, learning is difficult. Engaged readers actively interact with text, seeking to understand what they have read. They avoid distractions and socially interact with others regarding text (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000; Morrow, 1996). Engaged readers choose to read because they are interested in a text and they enjoy reading (Guthrie et al., 1996; Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000). Campbell, Voelkl, and Donahue (1997) found that highly engaged readers demonstrated higher levels of reading achievement than students who were less engaged. Furthermore, engagement in reading has helped students overcome obstacles, such as low family income and a less varied educational background (Guthrie & Wigfield, 2000). Engaged reading is a critical goal for educators to set for their students.
Continuum of Readers: From Disengaged to Engaged
Just as each student is unique, so is each reader. In any given classroom, students' level of reading engagement can range from completely disengaged to obsessive, and we recognize that a student's engagement may waver according to the content, task, and text. But if we want to support readers during independent reading and help them with engagement, it is critical for the teacher to identify the various types of readers in the classroom. To assist in this process, we have identified a continuum of reader profiles for independent reading from the least engaged to the most engaged (Kelley & Clausen-Grace, 2008; see Figure 1). Our purpose in describing these readers is not to label them, but to recognize that...