How can we get students to re-read?

As I walk around the room, I notice students talking—generally enthusiastically—about the book we are reading. They have a few discussion questions on a handout to take notes, which they dutifully fill out. What I don’t notice are any books open on their desks. In fact, I see many students with no books out at all, and what books are out are closed on their desks.

“Mrs. Ebarvia, do you know remember what Piggy said to Jack when they went to Castle Rock?”

“Sure, I remember.”

Pause. Expectant looks.

“You know, you could open your book to find out,” I suggest. My students smile and begin searching their books.

Years ago, when I first read Kelly Gallagher’s Deeper Reading during the PAWLP summer institute, one particular section that stood out to me was the chapter on “Deepening Comprehension through Second-Draft Reading.” In this chapter, Gallagher emphasizes the importance of getting students to go back to the text to reread:

Students need to return to the text to help them overcome their initial confusion, to work through the unfamiliarity of the work, to move beyond the literal, and to free up cognitive space for higher-level thinking. They need both a “down” reading draft to comprehend the basics and an “up” reading draft to explore the meaning. (80)

Those who have been teaching English long enough know that getting students to go back to the text can often be a difficult task. Having gotten the “jist” of the story on their first reading, students often see no need to go back to the text unless prompted.

Yet we also know that rereading is one of the first steps towards a deeper understanding of a text. When students reread, they can better appreciate craft—they can see the choices that an author made and question why. When a text is complex and students don’t “get it” the first time, rereading is not only a valuable but necessary move that students can make.

So how do we get students to go back to the text—to explore the text a second, or even third time?