Defining Student Engagement Through the Lens of Literacy

 //  Sep 9, 2021

Defining Student Engagement Through the Lens of Literacy

Pam Allyn is a literacy expert, author, and motivational speaker. Here, she explores the idea of student engagement in literacy, and how it can be achieved.

Engagement is the true key to achievement. When our students are engaged, learning is dynamic, sustainable and permanent. Through the lens of literacy, we can define student engagement in the following three ways: 1. Absorption, 2. Resilience, and 3. Delight. When students are truly, deeply engaged with their literacies (reading, writing, speaking, listening, and viewing) time falls away and they fall into deep absorption with the power of stories and ideas—the meaning of time itself changes. To achieve absorption we must give our students time to read, time to put their eyes on text, whether by reading or writing.

Engagement happens when we give our students independent reading time to read texts that matter to them, and time to read texts of their choice. As seen in the Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report™, when kids choose, kids read. Across demographics, the majority of kids (89%) agree their favorite books are the ones they’ve picked out themselves. Absorption comes when our powers of interest are deeply connected to the texts we are reading, whether it is because we are acquiring interesting knowledge that is useful to us or inspiring. It also happens when we are falling into the power of story itself—the most valuable tool for absorption. By establishing at least 20 minutes a day of structured independent reading time, we can model absorption, and talk about what it means to be absorbed by wonderful reads with our students. We can and should be asking students what kinds of books they want to read, which authors are most compelling, and what topics interest them. Then, we should build home and classroom libraries to match that feedback, creating communities of absorption.

Engagement happens when our students are bold and fearless in the work of literacy itself. Children need time to read independently every day and practice with texts of many levels, genres, formats and types. All of us will read and write beyond what we thought possible if we are resilient. Resilience is pushing through a difficult word, a challenging sentence or a complex idea. Engaged literacy learners are doing all these things, and being affirmed for that resilience with regular intervals of support. Even by noting moments of resilience, we as educators can encourage what successful learners do: “I loved how you pushed through the hard parts of that word. I loved how you deconstructed that challenging sentence. I loved how you grappled with that complex idea.” Resilience is a key component of engaged learning. There will be bumps in the road; the question is not how to remove them, but how to go through them. As advocates for our students, we can help them see the blessings and purposes of those moments of resilience and experience the triumph of grappling with complex texts and our own ideas on the page or screen.

Finally, there’s delight. Engagement is about witnessing the presence of delight in our classrooms and illuminating it, savoring it, and stopping to reflect upon it. Delight comes from both the practice with independent reading and also the community connections that happen through sharing ideas about texts. Our students laughing over a shared text, nodding in agreement with an author, sharing a big idea with a friend as they read or write, shedding a tear over a poem or a story that speaks to their hearts—all of this is the work of delight. It has a purpose in learning, a deep, rich, meaningful, life-changing purpose. Build opportunities for celebration as readers with your students: host a monthly reading celebration to honor the small and big steps they take as readers. Celebrate not only numbers of books read or minutes read, but also all the ways we all become lifelong readers. Celebrate the moment students fall in love with a series or author. Celebrate the day you all read poetry together and break through to a new idea. Invent ways to celebrate reading, such as “Funny Book Day” or “Books that Changed Our Lives Day.”

Our classrooms, alive with the conversations and texts that ignite sparks within all our students, create deep levels of engagement that lead to achievement, and to lifelong learning and joy.