Assessing Engagement

This post on Stenhouse’s blog is a follow up to my initial offering, Increasing Engagement.  If you have a question, comment, or suggestion about this program, please share in the comments. I will respond.

Summer has arrived: Lockers have been cleared out, desks are empty, and report cards were sent home. While another school year comes to a close, ten reluctant readers are only continuing their learning.

Last fall, my school revamped our after school reading intervention program. Illustrated in our previous post, my staff and I designed a book club based on the tenets of Peter Johnston’s reflections from last summer, Reducing Instruction, Increasing Engagement. We transitioned from a computer-based reading program to an intervention that relied more on students’ interests than on their Lexiles.

Everything started strong. Kids came to book club eager to check out the new titles, selected just for them. The majority of the time was allocated to allowing students to read books, to talk about books, and to share what they read. The facilitator’s job was simply to spark their interest and gently guide.

For a while we had them – They were reading! However, interest gradually dissipated. Some students got off task. Others stopped showing up regularly. The perception was that this “book club” was just an extension of the school day. We had to rethink our approach.
We knew students were engaged by technology. But would purchasing tablets to promote reading provide too much of a distraction? We found our middle ground and purchased ten simple eReaders. These devices were unable to house games and other forms of digital media. Just books. While we waited for the eReaders to show up, students came down to my office in groups of twos and threes to request their favorite titles and authors. Once students had signed a contract and the books were loaded on the devices. we sent them on their way to read.

We quickly realized the benefits of offering eReaders to students:

  • They were more willing to pick books they could decode and understand. On one occasion, a 4th grade boy rattled off some grade level titles, then looked around and whispered, “Could I also get some Flat Stanley chapter books?” I replied, “Sure” without missing a beat. Unless his books could be hidden within an eReader, it was unlikely he would have been caught by his peers reading Flat Stanley and related titles.
  • The technology itself seemed to engage the students. I have never, as a teacher or as a principal, had students seek me out (repeatedly) to see if their new books were available and ready to read. Having kids peek their heads out of classrooms when they heard me walking the hall to ask when their books would be downloaded was a visible example of their engagement with reading.
  • The buy in from parents was impressive. One parent made a special trip to school to pick up her son’s eReader. A father, whose son was home sick on the last day and came to pick up his report card, made a point to share with me that “he has been reading on that thing every day”.

When we looked at our year-end assessments, the results were a mixed bag. Analyzing computer-based screener scores, on average our ten students’ overall literacy skills stayed the same. However, looking at district-developed assessments, the majority of the students (70%) met their grade level benchmark, and the other three students were very close. In addition, their average fluency rate increased by 27% (92 Words Correct Per Minute (WCPM) in the fall; 117 WCPM in the spring).

Beyond this promising quantitative data, did our students develop an affection toward reading? Do they better value the impact a narrative can have on a person’s life? We attempted to measure engagement with a survey given to the students themselves. They were asked specific questions about their reading dispositions and habits; you can view the results here. Here are the most revealing conclusions:

  • Students in book club read a lot more now than they did before joining book club.
  • The eReaders encouraged the students to read more.
  • Students understood what they read, whether in print or digital text format.
  • They often reread their favorite books.

These statements read like they belong in a resource titled “The Seven Habits of Highly Engaged Readers”. We hope these practices continue, as we sent them home with both print and digital texts to peruse over the summer months.

My teachers often state that teaching reading is not like baking a cake. Students aren’t “done” after a certain amount of time and attention. Maybe we should compare educators to gardeners instead of bakers; they plant the seeds for literacy engagement, to grow and eventually blossom. Readers are created over time and do not adhere to deadlines. Where learners are heading is as important as where they have been.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

8 thoughts on “Assessing Engagement”

  1. This was a great read in which to gain insight from your experience. It lead me to feeling very aware and even more optimistic about the need to consider multiple factors in student engagement. The conclusion summarized it all so eloquently it actually seemed to resonate from a well known quotation. As familiar as it may have seemed I will admit that I read your final paragraph multiple times !! Many thanks, Kristen


    1. Thanks Kristen for the feedback. Good to know I spoke to my audience clearly. As for the last paragraph, maybe I subconsciously quoted someone else without realizing it!


  2. Great post Matt!! I’m excited to see how the summer reading program goes and if that really helps pull up their scores and if they use the devices as much over the summer. I’m hoping it works well, getting struggling readers to read more is the biggest battle, but also the thing that can make the biggest difference. I appreciate all of your sharing. I have learned so much more from you and Pernille Ripp since connecting with you on Twitter and following your blogs. I have a post I am working on and was wondering your thoughts on the use of reading logs in general and if you have experience with Teachers using them in the grading? Hoping all is well and that we can connect F2F again soon!



    1. Thanks Tom for the feedback. With reading logs, I always ask, “What is the purpose?” If it is to help students stop and think about their reading from time to time, without any type of summative assessment tied to them, then I think they can be good things. For the teacher, reading logs provide an opportunity to formatively assess students’ comprehension. The message being sent to the student with this type of mindset is, “I am really interested in what you are thinking while you are reading. The reading log is a great tool to inform my instruction and help you become a better reader.”

      However, if reading logs are used for grading, and solely to make sure that the student is doing the reading, then the reading log is only a tool for accountability. It is easier for the teacher to document whether the student is reading, yes. But trust between the student and the teacher goes down. The message being sent is, “I don’t trust you to read independently. Please write down your thinking here to ensure that you are using your time wisely.”

      So, my thinking is reading logs can be a good thing, as long as they used formatively instead of summatively.


  3. Matt,

    I really appreciated this post as a “wrap up” so to speak of your journey with the reading program. I’ve wondered how things turned out and believe with those struggling readers, technology will be the hook for them. There are so many titles that can be used and I’ve enjoyed seeing how you’ve modified as time as went on. I loved that students not only read more than before, but that they don’t mind rereading books and the media (paper or digital) doesn’t matter.

    Thank you for sharing with us! I look forward to your future posts.



    1. It was interesting to see what titles they pick during the second round (once they read all the books we initially purchased). The majority of the titles were a) part of a series and b) a book their friends were reading too.

      In the future, I would like to be able to monitor the students’ comprehension of the eBooks and compare those results with the books they read in print. They say they understand the text in either format, but at what depth? I also would like to get some eReaders behind the LMC desk for check out. Load them up with specific genres, such as mysteries, humor, and nonfiction.


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