Engaged Readers, Offline Reading Comprehension, & Cultural Implications in Literacy


Strategic readers employ multiple effective comprehension strategies such as using schema, questioning, visualizing, inferring, determining importance, synthesizing, and using fix-up strategies (Buehl, 2014). These strategies are implemented with little to no support, allowing strategic and proficient readers to monitor and clarify their thinking before, during, and after reading and apply the strategies as needed at appropriate times. Less strategic readers may not have learned how to apply these strategies, or may still have their primary attention on decoding the print they’re reading. In these cases, rereading of difficult passages or providing easier text would help these readers develop and master effective reading strategies (Samuels, 2013).

An engaged reader is “learning for the sake of learning” (Swan, 2003). Engaged readers ask questions, set goals, talk about their reading, and use the process of reading to find answers and share information (Swan, 2003).  To be engaged is to be motivated. According to Swan (2003), people need three things to become intrinsically motivated: competence, autonomy support, and belonging. Students need to experience success with reading to develop competence. They also need to have choice as a reader and control over their experiences. Finally, they need to feel they are important and belong to a community. Swan (2003) continues to explain that when readers are motivated, they use their skills to seek conceptual knowledge and become increasingly social within their cultures and communities. Engaged readers achieve comprehension when they actively create meaning from text (Buehl, 2014).

Teachers, librarians, and any other influential adults in a child’s life can encourage these contexts in which a reader can become engaged in the reading process. If we look back at the RAND heuristic for reading comprehension, we consider the reader, text, and activity within a larger sociocultural context (Snow, 2002). Duke and Pearson (2002) outline ways in which educators and literacy influencers can create these contexts for readers. An engaged and supportive classroom includes a lot of time spent reading accessible texts where students can apply strategies and skills, opportunities for authentic reading, exposure to a variety of materials and genres, a vocabulary rich environment, support and practice in decoding words, ample time spent writing for authentic audiences, and rich dialogue about text (pp. 207-208). This environment is evident in the CORI videos (University of Maryland, n.d.). In these videos, students exercise autonomy as they seek specialized knowledge on sub-topics of interest within an overarching unit of study. They’re motivated through social dialogue, choice in their text selection, and curiosity about conceptual knowledge.

Current research surround reading comprehension instruction is beginning to reflect the goal-directed era of learning (Alexander & Fox, 2013). The reader has entered the stage in the theater of comprehension, and with this new player comes personal-social identity and cultural and social capital (Ellis & Smith, 2017). The reader is considered within a larger sociocultural context (Snow, 2002). Motivation, choice, and authenticity are key components to quality reading comprehension instruction (Duke & Pearson, 2002). Developmentally appropriate practices are part of the dialogue of assessment creation (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2015). Overall, the definition of reading comprehension and resulting instructional practices are moving forward. I personally don’t feel they’re keeping pace with the dynamic nature of literacy in our modern technological age, but that’s a separate discussion for a separate set of literature.  


As a district technology teacher on special assignment (TOSA), I am considered a technology integration coach. My role is to work with PreK-12 teachers and administrators as they integrate technology into instruction. While I hold a larger than average amount of IT knowledge, my job is not to hook up computers, but rather to utilize my pedagogical and content area knowledge to develop purposeful technology use in classrooms, with the ultimate goal to increase student engagement and performance. However, in this reflection on the literature, I step back from this identity and consider print reading comprehension. I struggle with this not only because of my job title, but also because digital literacy is an area of interest for me, and I’m still undecided as to whether print and digital literacy can be identified separately in terms of the reading process. Yes, they both employ some different skills and strategies, but many of the core reading processes of a proficient reader are evident in both. More so, a disposition of autonomy, meaning seeking, and social action are needed to navigate within our knowledge rich culture, regardless of the location and/or form of that knowledge. I need to spend more time with the current research on new literacies to formulate a full perspective on this, and I acknowledge this personal and academic shortcoming, but I digress.

If I were to honestly reflect on my context, it is evident that many of the effective comprehension practices presented by Duke and Pearson (2002) are not occurring regularly in classrooms. I have the honor of spending most of my days in a variety of contexts, working with children and young adults, observing teaching practices, and experiencing different classroom cultures. There are some classrooms where the atmosphere is rich with talk about literature, students are excited to learn, and the teacher provides a balance between support and autonomy in the comprehension development process. But for each of those classrooms, I also experience what Swan (2003) describes as fragmented instruction. Instruction that is so tied to the daily schedule, partitioned blocks of time for content areas, and focused on the cognitive process of reading comprehension, that the reader is lost within the well-meaning push towards improved test scores and school rankings. These are the classrooms that move me towards research and professional development in literacy. These are the students I want to take aside, hand them that perfect book, and say, “Here’s a mirror to identify with. Here’s a window into a world you’ve never know. Here’s a door to step through into experiences you have yet to encounter” (Bishop, 1990). Because without identity we lose motivation, without motivation we lose engagement, and without engagement, potential experiences remain just letters on pages.  


My most pressing question right now is how do we keep sight of the person within the data? How do we remember that schools are social constructs onto which we, as a society, have projected cultural norms and expectations according to the dominant groups of that society (Alexander and Fox, 2013)? And within these two questions, how do we respect the sociocultural views and values of children and families when assessing and reporting academic achievement (Ellis & Smith, 2017)? If we aren’t respecting the identities of readers, how can we expect to motivate them and position them within a context that respects their choices and opinions? This applies to all forms of literacy, especially as we move into digital literacy, but also with content area literacy and especially media literacy. If we are not taking a stance of critical literacy in all things, beginning with print, we are failing our children as they enter a future riddled with bias and questionable credibility.




Alexander, P. A., & Fox, E. (2013). A historical perspective on reading research and practice, redux. In Alvermann, D. E., Unrau, N. J., & Ruddell, R. B. (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading, (6th ed., pp. 3-46). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Bishop, R. S. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives, 6(3), ix–xi.

Buehl, D. (2014). Classroom strategies for interactive learning. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Duke, N.K. & Pearson, P. D. (2002). Effective practices for developing reading comprehension. In Farstrup, A. E., & Samuels, S. J. (Eds.), What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction (3rd ed.). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Ellis, S., & Smith, V. (2017). Assessment, teacher education and the emergence of professional expertise. Literacy, 51(2), 84-93. doi:10.1111/lit.12115

National Assessment of Educational Progress. (2015). 2015 Abridged reading framework. Retrieved from https://www.nagb.org/content/nagb/assets/documents/publications/frameworks/reading/2015-reading-framework-abridged.pdf

Samuels, S. J. (2013). Towards a theory of automatic information processing in reading, revisited. In Alvermann, D. E., Unrau, N. J., & Ruddell, R. B. (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading, (6th ed., pp. 698-718). Newark, DE: International Reading Association. (Reprinted from Ruddell, R. B., Ruddell, M. R., & Singer, H. (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading, (4th ed., pp. 816-837), Newark, DE: International Reading Association.)

Snow, C. E. (2002). Reading for understanding: Toward an R & D program in reading comprehension. Santa Monica, CA: Rand.

Swan, E. A. (2003). Concept-oriented reading instruction: Engaging classrooms, lifelong learners. New York: Guilford Press.

University of Maryland (n.d.). CORI: Classroom Videos [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.cori.umd.edu/what-is-cori/classroom-videos.php


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