The problem is that when we tell kids they have to seek connections as readers, we're teaching them to stop engaging in stories and start looking for distractions. And no one can be engaged and distracted at the same time.
I was sitting with a group of teachers last week as they analyzed data from a recent reading assessment. They were discussing student strengths and areas for improvement. One of the areas students did not score well involved connecting personal experiences to the text as well as having background knowledge to assist in understanding. These teachers discussed things they have done to help students make those needed connections. One of the things mentioned involved creating a 2 column chart with experiences on one side and connections on the other side.
The teacher explained that she had students fill in the experiences side after they read the title but before reading the passage or book. So if students were going to read something about tornadoes, like Tornadoes by Anne Wendorff on Big Universe, then they would write and/or draw any experiences they had or knew about related to that topic. That could include if they had seen the movie The Wizard of Oz and the tornado in that story, the recent bad weather we have had in this area, or the practice tornado drills students do in school. This was just to get students thinking about the things they might know related to the topic. The second column is a place for students to write connections they have with what they read. This part is done after reading. Students can write and/or draw things they thought of while reading. The teacher sharing this chart said that she had used these charts (often just made by folding a piece of paper in half) with students with good results, even for her lower level students.
This 2 column chart is a before reading and after reading activity not a during reading activity. I feel like during reading, students need to be involved with what is happening in the story or passage rather than what may or may not be happening in their minds, which connects with the quote at the beginning of this post. I think the time to have students things about connections as readers is after they have read. When someone is reading, we want them to be engaged with and focused on the story.