Choosing Read Aloud

Reading aloud gives kids a special kind of access to the transformative power of story and to the experience of what real reading is all about – which is to deeply understand, to think, to learn and to discuss big ideas about the world, about the lives of others and about ourselves.

Rebecca Bellingham Tedx Talks

When I look back to my classroom days, the thing that makes me most homesick for teaching is my read aloud time. My fondest memories are sharing books like Inkheart, Holes, The American Plague and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle with my students. Each book , wonderful in its own way, engaged my students, brought them together, and created a community in our classroom. I think back to me, sitting in the rocking chair, surrounded by a room full of fourth graders seated all around me. I can still see their faces, rapt with attention. I can hear their gasps when the story surprised them. I remember the laughing, the Kleenex, and the pleas for “just one more chapter.”

And while it is true that this time was arguably the most fun part of our day, a lot of learning went on as well. During the read aloud block, my students learned to think about texts that may or may not have been otherwise accessible to them. They learned to talk about texts. They learned to listen to each other. They were introduced to new vocabulary, new text structures, new genres. Everyone was an equal during this time. No one was left out because the book “wasn’t their level.” Everyone could listen, think, and participate in our conversations.

Why wouldn’t this be a part of every teacher’s daily schedule?

The diminishment – and even complete loss- of read aloud in classrooms drains energy from reading work and contributes to factory-style education, where only educational investments with obvious, immediate test score payoffs warrant instructional time.” 

p31 Who’s Doing the Work? By Burkins and Yaris

I think this Burkins and Yaris quote sums it up. Read aloud does not warrant instructional time because it does not yield immediate test score pay offs. In the age of high-stakes assessments (high stakes for students AND teachers) instruction has shifted to emphasize worksheets that mimic test-like questions. Students are asked to “close read” texts that are in some cases, many levels above what they can read in order to increase the “rigor” that the common core demands. Some teachers even base their entire instructional program off the recommendations of test creators in the hopes of increasing test scores.

Time is such an important commodity in every classroom. We only have students for 6 short hours per day. Why then should teachers reconsider the time it takes to incorporate read aloud?

Read aloud increases engagement
. When students are read aloud to they experience genres, series, authors and ideas that they may have never been exposed to on their own. Students get the chance to see the end product of their reading work and are able to participate in it. This involvement increases energy, excitement and engagement around reading.

Read aloud allows students to internalize text structures. When students hear many books read aloud, in either fiction or nonfiction, they begin to understand “how stories go.” They can begin to anticipate what will happen next or what the next part will be about because they have had exposure to texts just like it. This will help students as they begin to read on their own because they will be able to frame what they read within those known structures.

Read aloud gives students time to focus on meaning and comprehension work. Without having to focus on decoding words, students can focus on what is really important about reading- the meaning of those words. They can see and be involved in the thinking work of stories. Students can do sophisticated work around theme, symbolism and other important reading analysis that they would not be able to do alone.

Read aloud increases vocabulary. Reading, whether aloud or independently, is the single best way to improve vocabulary. According to Linda Hoyt, 30 minutes of reading a day can increase a student’s vocabulary by 3000 per year!

Time is always a factor. Teachers have to make hard decisions about how to choose to spend that time. Here are some closing thoughts on that…

People would stand in line for days and pay hundreds of dollars if there were a pill that could do everything for a child that reading aloud does. It expands their interest in books, vocabulary, comprehension, grammar, and attention span. Simply put, it’s a free “oral vaccine” for literacy
. – Jim Trelease

There is no one busy in this world, it’s all about priorities. You will always find time for the things you feel are important. – Nishan Panwar
How will you choose to spend your time?

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