September 18, 2013

How to Measure and Increase Student Engagement During Reading Instruction

increasing student engagement

It is probably not surprising that one of the most consistent findings in educational research demonstrates that the more time students spend engaged during instruction, the more they learn (Gettinger & Ball, 2007). Schlechty (2002) defined the five levels of student engagement so we can learn to gauge student interest and increase the effectiveness of our structured literacy instruction.

Five Levels of Student Engagement

  • Authentic Engagement—students are immersed in work that has a clear meaning and immediate value to them (reading a book on a topic of personal interest)
  • Ritual Compliance—the work has little or no immediate meaning to students, but there are extrinsic outcomes of value that keep them engaged (earning grades necessary for college acceptance)
  • Passive Compliance—students see little or no meaning in the assigned work but expend effort merely to avoid negative consequences (not having to stay in during recess to complete work)
  • Retreatism—students are disengaged from assigned work and make no attempt to comply, but are not disruptive to the learning of others
  • Rebellion—students refuse to do the assigned task, act disruptive, and attempt to substitute alternative activities

Measuring Engagement in the Classroom

The level of student engagement can vary from student-to-student, and lesson-to-lesson so it can be difficult to get a general feel for how engaged a class is as a whole. To that end, Schlechty (2002) also outlined three categories that can be used to measure the level of engagement for an entire classroom.

The Engaged Classroom

In the engaged classroom, you will observe that all students are authentically engaged at least some of the time or that most students are authentically engaged most of the time. Passive compliance and retreatism are rarely observed and rebellion is non-existent.

The Compliant Classroom

The compliant classroom is the picture of traditional education. This type of classroom is orderly and most students will appear to be working so it would be easy to infer that learning is taking place. However, while there is little evidence of rebellion, retreatism is a very real danger as it is very common in the compliant classroom. 

The Off-Task Classroom

Retreatism and rebellion are easily observed in the off-task classroom. This type of classroom is each-student-for-them-self so you will see some degree of authentic and ritual engagement, along with passive compliance as well. Teachers in the off-task classroom spend most of their time dealing with rebelling students rather than teaching lessons that engage.

Seven Student Engagement Strategies

Student engagement is a byproduct of effective instruction that has major payoffs. When students are engaged during explicit phonics instruction they learn and retain more information. Student engagement during reading instruction also increases the likelihood that your students will become passionate about reading. So, how can you increase the amount of time that students in your class are engaged during reading instruction? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Use the 10:2 method. For every 10 minutes of instruction allow the students 2 minutes to process and respond to the instruction or reading material. This can be done in various ways: have them write about what they have learned or read, have them ask or write down questions they have about what they have read or learned, or have students discuss the lesson or reading material with a partner.
  2. Incorporate movement into your lessons. Require students to respond to a question about a reading passage or lesson by moving to a certain spot in the room, writing on whiteboards, or standing (or sitting) when they are done thinking about the question, etc.
  3. Pick up the pace. One misconception is that we must go slow for students to really understand and engage in a lesson or story. There is a lot of evidence that shows that when teaching and reading are done at a brisk pace, students have more opportunities to engage, respond, and move on to the next concept or idea (Carnine & Fink, 1978; Williams, 1993; Ernsbarger et al., 2001).
  4. Provide frequent and effective feedback. Correct students as they learn new decoding skills or reading strategies. Be sure students know how to use each strategy correctly so they experience success and mastery.
  5. Allow students 5-7 seconds of ‘think time’ when asking a question about a story or reading passage. At the end of the time draw a random name to answer the question.
  6. At the end of a lesson have students use the 3-2-1 method of summarizing by having students record three things they learned, two interesting things, and one question they have about what was taught or read. Allow time to share their findings with a peer.
  7. Periodically pause mid-sentence when teaching and require students to fill in the blanks.

Learn more about teaching reading strategies ›

Pinterest Reference Guide:

increase student engagement


At the end of one of my recent day-long trainings, a teacher approached me and said, “This was a great training.  I know, because I didn’t get my knitting needles out one time.” Whether we are teaching young people or adults, it is important to keep in mind that student engagement is more than just listening. If we are constantly monitoring the level of student engagement in our classroom we can consciously work to increase the amount of time that students are involved in learning and expect greater success in our teaching.

Related Articles

Five Ways to Activate Student Attention, Anticipation, & Interest During a Lesson

The 4 C's of Effective Instruction That Boost Student Engagement

What is phonics instruction? >

Misconceptions About Phonics Instruction - #2 - Phonics Instruction is Boring

Interested in learning more about Early Literacy? Explore our free educational resources to learn how you can help the young readers in your life! Take a look at one of our Reading Horizons reviews (from California - the state).


*Carnine. D., & Fink, W. T. (1978). Increasing the rate of presentation and use of signals in elementary classroom teachers. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 11, 35-46.

*Ernsbarger, S. C., Tincani. M. J., Harrison,T. J., Frazier-Trotman, S., Simmons-Reed, E., & Heward. W. L. (2001, May). Slow teacher/fast teacher: Effects on participation rate, accuracy, and off-task behavior by pre-K students during small-group language lessons. Paper presented at the 27th Annual Convention of the Association for Behavior Analysis. New Orleans. LA

*Gettinger, M., & Ball, C. (2007). Best practices in increasing academic engaged time. In A. Thomas & J. Grimes (Eds.), Best practices in school psychology V (pp. 1043-1075). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.

*Schlechty, P. (2002) Working on the Work.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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Yasmin said

I enjoyed this blog. I want to present this information to other faculty.

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marketing said

Feel free to share it! Let us know how it goes!

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Melissa said

Great article! Question: The strategy, "Provide frequent and effective feedback," is easier said than done. What does effective feedback look like? Just curious if you have any specific feedback methods you use.

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Lisa said

Just re-asking an above questions because I am also curious. Thank you for the article!

What does effective feedback look like? Just curious if you have any specific feedback methods you use.

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Jeremy said

I feel that the 10:2 method would be extremely helpful to give the students a time to think and re- group.

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Sarah said

Very Nice Article and Great Infographic. I really loved the way of writing.

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Ryan said

Such a great article, engagement in the classroom is such an important part of the learning experience. If anyone is looking for a great tool to use, here's another great blog on the subject.

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Leesa Johnson said

Awesome presentation, I liked the way you presented the post using the infographic to explain the 7 different ways.

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Let us read this article carefully,because it can help our student to find themselves in the lesson and participate actively.

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Susan Hopkins said

I was really interested in the section on engagement in the classroom. When I graduated my degree in ECE focussed on the child and learning through meaningful play based activities. It came as quite a shock when I taught in a primary school where the model of education was based upon the compliant classroom model and gradually there was a shift away toward child centred inquiry based learning. For this to be implemented and successful there is Engagement in Student Engagement Strategies if

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Susan Hopkins said

Very informative reading. I found the five levels of student engagement very interesting as this knowledge is important in identifying a student's specific needs and follow up planning. The 7 student engagement strategies suit varied learning styles thus supporting continued and extended learning engagement.

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Malini Hariharan said

I enjoyed going through the 7 different ways . I have been to classrooms that are compliant as well as ones that are off task and these strategies I am sure will help in getting students effectively engaged.

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Bronya Thomas said

Appreciate strategies provided- timely reminder too.

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Sushma said

I like the presentation which is explained very well. I will discuss with my head teacher.

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latoya Bolden-Coleman said

3-2-1 give individuals an opportunity to engage with other

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latoya; Bolden-Coleman said

Five levels of engagement is very helpful

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