When I taught second grade many eons ago, I would read aloud to my students following their lunch recess. As they were all usually so tired and exhausted from running around, they sat in their chairs and listened intently as I read from our current read aloud novel. They were captivated by the stories and hung on my every word. You would have thought I had stolen their prized puppy when I finished reading each day as they were so sad to pause the story and move onto the next activity.
While I realize that sixth graders are very different than second graders, I’m struggling to engage this year’s group of sixth graders. The classes from year’s past have all thoroughly loved the class read-alouds and ranked them as one of their favorite parts of Humanities class every year. So, why is this year’s group not as engaged. They don’t seem to be liking the novel or trying to listen in any sort of active or appropriate manner. During every read-aloud this year I’ve had to redirect students who were making distracting or distracted choices, remind students not to speak to their peers, and refocus students who were moving around the reading area or playing with various toys or gadgets. Instead of focusing on the story and getting lost in it, they are getting lost in each other. This is the first year that I’ve struggled with engaging students during this weekly activity. So, what’s the issue? What’s causing the students to not engage during class read-alouds? Is it the book? Do they not like Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman? Is it no longer a great choice for our community unit? Should I choose something different? Perhaps. Or is it the language issue? I do have four ESL students in my class who struggle to comprehend English orally. Could this be impacting their focus and in turn affecting their classmates? Maybe. Regardless of the reasons why, I am now focused on solutions. How can I best engage my students during the class read-alouds?
- After I noticed many of the students exhibiting distracting and unfocused behaviors during our first read-aloud, I decided to share my concerns with the students and brainstorm possible solutions. While no big ideas came out of the discussion, one student suggested using his chair in which to sit in the reading area and another student asked about standing during the read-aloud. So as to be open-minded, I accepted and permitted both of their ideas from taking place during read-alouds. Unfortunately, their ideas did not make much of a difference in keeping students focused during class read-alouds. Therefore, I went back to the drawing board.
- As I do realize that some students do need to fidget to stay focused, I wondered how many of my “distracted” students were actually paying attention and focused on what was being read and discussed. So, to test my theory, I created a check-in assessment for my students to take today in class. Most of the students did very well and seemed to fully comprehend what is happening in our read-aloud novel. The only students who struggled are our ELLs, which is to be expected as auditory processing of a new language can be much more challenging than speaking or reading the new language. Then, what does this data mean? Does it mean that even though the students seem distracted and unfocused they are actually paying attention and fully engaged? Perhaps. To test this hypothesis, I need an outside perspective.
- On Tuesday of next week, during a class read-aloud, my co-teacher will be observing me and the students. What are the boys really doing while I’m reading aloud to them? What am I missing or not seeing? Am I most effectively supporting all of my students during this activity? Could I be doing anything else to keep the students focused and engaged? I’m looking forward to receiving some specific feedback on what I might not be seeing. I’m hopeful that it will shed some light on how I can best engage all of the students during the class read-alouds.
I clearly don’t have any answers to the question I’m posing in my blog title today. I’m curious and want to learn how best to support my students as they learn and grow as readers. How can I best engage the students during class read-alouds? Why is this group not buying into the read-alouds like every other sixth grade class I’ve had? Am I doing something differently? So, over the next few weeks, I’m going to be analyzing these questions as I look for new ways to engage all of the learners in my classroom during class read-alouds.