At the end of a post I wrote last August called “My Classes are Only 45 Minutes — How Do I Do Workshop?” a reader named Andy left this comment: I am at kind of a roadblock mentally and could use a push…I teach 8th grade reading in a building that still has both “reading” and “language” classes. While I am slowly transitioning to more of a workshop approach, I am still getting stuck on a few things. For our second semester, we have always read a whole class novel, but I would love to get away from that. Have any of you done read-alouds in your classes? I am beginning to think that maybe a better option would be to have students vote on a novel with a certain theme and do a read aloud and work on certain aspects of reading. My one concern that I can hear being brought up by administration is making sure I have enough assessments and grades…
First of all, I love that Andy asks this question and recognizes his need for “a push” as he wants to do more to engage his students than just another whole class novel. Not that whole class novels are necessarily bad, but those of us who have seen what choice can do in our students’ reading lives know: if we only choose whole class novels, we lose valuable time developing readers. Giving students a choice as to a book to read aloud might just be a good idea.
I heard Steven Layne, author of In Defense of Read Alouds speak at the Illinois Reading Council Conference this past fall. He quoted the research and the position statements from scholars of various grade levels on the benefits of read alouds:
- Positive attitudes are fostered towards books.
- Imagination is exercised.
- Background knowledge is built.
- Reading skills are improved and reinforced.
- A model of prosody and fluency is provided.
- Reading independence is promoted.
- Interests in genres are broadened.
- Cultural sensitivity is increased.
- Listening skills are improved.
- Exposure to a variety of text types is provided.
- Reading maturity develops.
- Reading happens.
Based on these statements, Andy, what do you have to lose?
I offer a few suggestions though: HOW you read aloud to children is as important as WHAT you read aloud. Layne suggests five key elements the teacher-reader must employ as he conveys an awareness of phrasing and word color: diction, volume, pace, tone, and pitch.
To read aloud effectively, as to engage all listeners, the reader must be a performer.
Of course, what you read aloud matters, too. Offering students several choices and letting them vote is one way to foster trust in your classroom community. Students want to know we value their opinions. I’ve found with my AP English students, when I provide several choices for their Book Clubs, many students will choose to read the books not selected for their independent reading.
I would also suggest that you offer a choice of books that are not too long. I learned a few years ago when I read aloud with my 10th graders that even when they choose the book, attention spans are short. A full-length novel read aloud can cause the same negatives that a whole class novel study can. For this reason, I think it’s important to consider your main objective first and then plan backwards.
If I were doing a read aloud with those same 10th graders this spring, I would plan differently than I did before.
- I’d select several books with the same theme I want to build a unit around, and I’d plan to introduce the books by reading aloud from each of them.
- I’d think about the goals I can accomplish as we focus on the theme, and I’d think of several summative-type assessments in which students can choose to show they’ve accomplished these goals. Or I’d think about how I might invite students to create their own major assessments.
- I’d think about the skills my students need to master, and I’d pair mini-lessons with the ones I know will emerge through the reading. (These can serve as formative assessments.)
- I’d think about how I will get my students to apply these skills to their independent reading books, which could all be centered on the same theme (if I planned that well enough). (These can also serve as formative assessments.)
One of my goals with my AP students this spring is to do more read alouds. I’ve learned this fall that many of my students do not understand the different forms and structures stories can take. We are going to use children’s books to help with our understanding. The book Writers ARE Readers by Lester Laminack and Reba M. Wadsworth offers several suggestions on titles that will work with students of all grade levels.
So while I will not be reading aloud a whole novel, I will be performing read alouds and thinking through 1-4 above as I plan this unit.
Best wishes to you, Andy, as you read aloud with your students. I believe this poem by Steven Layne is an important reminder to all of us who work with children:
Read to them
Before the time is gone and stillness fills the room again.
Read to them.
What if it were meant to be that you were the one, the only one,
who could unlock the doors and share the magic with them?
What if others had been daunted by scheduling demands,
district objectives, or one hundred other obstacles?
Read to them
Be confident Charlotte has been able to teach them about friendship,
and Horton about self-worth:
Be sure the Skin Horse has been able to deliver his message.
Read to them
Let them meet Tigger, Homer Price, Aslan, and Corduroy;
Take them to Oz, Prydain, and Camazotz;
Show them a Truffula Tree.
Read to them
Laugh with them at Soup and Rob,
and cry with them when the Queen of Terabithia is forever lost;
Allow the Meeker Family to turn loyalty, injustice, and war
into something much more than a vocabulary lesson.
What if you were the one, the only one, with the chance to do it?
What if this is the critical year for even one child?
Read to them
Before the time, before the chance, is gone.
– Steven L. Layne, from The Reading Teacher Vol 48, No. 2 October 1994
Do any of you have other suggestions for Andy about how he might structure and/or craft assessments for his read aloud? Please leave your ideas in the comments.
Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 3 to the Fighting Farmers at Lewisville High School. She adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus Christ: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all love more than we think we can. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass.