Engaged and Unengaged Reading
A reader can respond differently even to the same book. Lloyd Alexander, an author who attributes his writing success to childhood reading, discovered Treasure Island at home as a child and loved it—pure engaged reading. He lived with Jim, he pondered the story when he was away from the book, and he longed to return to the people and events of the tale. Years later he was assigned the same novel in a high school English class. This time the reading did not produce the same involvement. Class discussion centered on elements he found uninteresting, assignments interfered with his experience, and he failed the final test “because I couldn’t remember the construction of that damned blockhouse” (Alexander, 1993). The teacher held “discussions” with the class but asked only factual questions, gave assignments that did not include Lloyd’s focus, and based success on a test of specific and unimportant details. Instead of helping Lloyd get deeper into the story, the teacher’s approach actually kept him from the book, turning an earlier engaged reading experience into an unengaged one.
Classic unengaged reading often comes during traditional reading instruction time at school. There the focus is not on the text as a purveyor of meaning but on the text as underbrush, where the secret skills of reading hide out. The sentences and paragraphs serve as camouflage for initial consonant blends, prediction questions, comprehension checks, vocabulary words, and the objects of a multitude of other skills lessons. This is not to say that the skills of reading are unimportant. The skills need to be learned, and students need the confidence that comes from understanding how language works and from an awareness that they are skilled and competent readers. The problem comes when students are given a good story to read with the primary goal of identifying skill components in it. This emphasis is a bit like sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner and seeing only vitamins and minerals on your plate or, worse yet, being served a pile of pills instead of the steaming turkey and trimmings because, after all, those nutritional elements are what is important for fueling our bodily furnaces.
© ______ 2008, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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