Observing Reading Behaviors in Students

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

You can learn so much about a child by watching him or her read. This lesson will give you some ideas about how to observe students' reading behaviors and what to do with what you learn via these observations.

Reading Behaviors

Mr. Wolf is a fourth-grade teacher who has grown a bit tired of all the pressure he feels to push students to the next reading level. He understands that learning to read well is very important, but he does not like using this as the constant basis of his teaching. Before he begins his next school year, he has decided to learn a bit about ways to approach literacy instruction that are not all based on moving students along a linear path. One thing Mr. Wolf decides to focus on is his students' reading behaviors. Reading behaviors can be blatant or subtle. They encompass everything a child does when reading or being read to. Reading behaviors have to do with a student's skill as a reader, but also with their personality, likes, and dislikes. As Mr. Wolf prepares to make the most of focusing on his students' reading behaviors in the upcoming year, he takes some time to reflect on what he already knows about reading behaviors from past experience.

All children behave differently when they read or are read to, but not all teachers take the time to notice.

During Read-Alouds

Every year, Mr. Wolf has a few students who simply cannot get enough of read-aloud time. No matter what book he is working through with his class, these students sit up close to him and zero in on his voice, his expressions, and his questions as he reads. At the same time, each year there are also students who dread read-alouds. Some of them even act out while he is reading, distracting classmates. Others simply zone out and miss the entire story. Mr. Wolf begins to consider the significance of these reading behaviors. He thinks that students are trying to teach him something. Maybe his most attentive students are strong readers, or maybe they are struggling readers who love story and he can use this love to motivate them as they grow on their own. Perhaps the distractible students actually struggle with receptive language and he can do more to help them understand what they are listening to. Mr. Wolf realizes that paying attention to his students' behavior during read-alouds might help him understand them better as readers and as whole people.

During Independent Reading

Just as is the case during read-alouds, Mr. Wolf knows that there are several typical behavioral profiles when his students read independently. He thinks of the following prototypes:

    • students who flit from book to book without ever finishing one

Maybe these students need more help making good choices, or maybe they are ashamed that they cannot read what their classmates are reading. Perhaps they are afraid of endings or worried about what it would mean to finish a book.

    • students who get deeply involved in one book after another

Often these are very strong students, but Mr. Wolf has noticed that the same children sometimes might struggle socially or in other subject areas. He grows determined to learn more about what kinds of books and themes attract these children so that he can use their passions as readers to help them in other realms.

    • students who get silly and cannot sustain their silence

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