Tag Archives: read alouds

Taking a chance on reading aloud

One of the most prevalent memories I have from my childhood is being read to.  Every week, my mom would load my sister and I in the van and head downtown to the library where we would practice returning, renewing, and selecting new books.  I can still see the orange carpet in the children’s library, the shelves that stood only as tall as a seven year old, and hear the crinkle of the plastic covers that protected each precious story like shrink wrap.  During the week, my sister and I vied for places on her lap as she read aloud each book. I wouldn’t say she was a theatrical reader, I don’t recall her trying on different voices or even pausing to ask us what we thought, but it was her voice telling a story.  Isn’t that the magic of being read to?

Read alouds in K-12 classrooms have immense benefits, although their usage and popularity have ebbed and flowed overtime, as discussed by Steven L. Layne’s book In Defense of Read-Aloud which Amy writes about along with practical strategies for implementation.  This summer, I began to notice much discussion around reading aloud in the adolescent classroom and my interest was piqued.  My challenge to myself this summer was to try implementing read alouds, not just think alouds, in my classroom.

Admittedly, I got a little scared.  Then I chickened out. 

Having just hours to submit a book list to the department chair and having never visited the school I was about to teach at, I was unsure how a read aloud would be perceived by my new students and new colleagues.  So, I played it safe and opted to start the year with a full class read aloud using one of the required texts, The Crucible (I work with a curriculum that includes highly suggested texts for English 3, American Literature in the state of Utah, which has led me to a balance the requirements while choice).  I put students at the center of the read aloud, hoping they would embrace and take ownership of hearing a story versus reading it.

Did I fear a lack of student buy in?  Yep. Did I wonder if my pedagogical reasoning would be questioned?  At some points. Am I planning for a class-selected read aloud in the coming weeks?  Sure am!

Students loved it.  

I loved it.

We laughed, we questioned, we build community, and we worked on critical reading skills. We also enjoyed the story–there is power in students hearing a story, even when they’re 16 or 17 years old.

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6th period was so into reading, they literally begged me to read the deleted scene between John Proctor and Abigail Williams once they discovered it at the end of the play–how could I say no?  While we were all entertained with Sam and Noa’s reading, we were able to discuss how the scene adds to and takes away from the text as a whole, in addition to making inferences about Miller’s choices.

Building upon Layne’s research, here are the benefits I noticed in my classroom:

  • Students received a foundation of reading strategies to start the school year.  As a play is essentially a “think aloud,” with the narrator teaching students to make inferences about characters, conflict, and the social setting. Prior to starting, we discussed our reading voices, what Chris Tovani has labeled as “Interacting” and “Distracting” voices in Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?.  The interacting voice is what makes connections and predictions, asks questions, develops an opinion, and identifies confusion as we are decoding words.  The distracting voice is what pulls a reader’s attention away from the text (Tovani 63). For struggling readers, the narrated parts and asides modeled this “interacting voice” and we implemented “Fix Up Strategies,” as defined by Tovani, when our distracting voice overpowered our interacting voice, leading to muddled comprehension. We paused to recap the plot, ask questions, and make predictions during our full class reading.  Students had permission to pause the read aloud and we implemented these strategies together and practice themselves.
  • Students made connections between the false accusations and lies of Salem and our current world.  I never had to answer the age-old English question of “Why are we reading this?”  Big win when students understand the relevance of a common text to their world.
  • Students became comfortable reading and sharing–many began taking on the person of the accused, answering using “I,” demonstrating they were engaged in the text and thinking like the characters. This has created an environment where their voice and opinions matter.
  • Students dug into their choice reads in their own time because much our class time, aside from writers notebook time, was dominated by The Crucible.  Without realizing, students began to develop the habit of reading daily on their own time. Sa-weet!
  • I gained incredible insight into my students’ preferences, personalities, and habits.  I immediately learned who participates in the theater program and who only volunteers when the role is small.  I learned who needs to be engaged fully to keep on task and whose brain wanders thus requires reminders to “enter” the scene.  I learned who likes to lead, taking charge in the scene as the main character, or play the mother hen and keep everyone “on task” as a narrator. You learn who always brings their book and who always forgets, who annotates and who ponders.  It was like watching a collaborative group unfold.
  • We built rapport.  I believe beginning with a play set the tone that our classroom environment is one where we work together and discuss literature–what we love, what resonates with us, what we can connect to.  Our classroom is one where reading is an enjoyable experience.

“One key benefit of a consistent read-aloud is that kids enjoy being with text; this affects attitude, and attitude precedes action. Kids don’t take books home and read if they never have any pleasant experiences w.jpg

I also wonder if their reading was deepened because we read together as a community, bringing 20+ backgrounds and ideas together to create a collective understanding.  Maybe the struggling students thought “I can do this” for the first time. Maybe the advanced student thought “Now I more time to read what I want at home” for the first time in a long time. Maybe other students simply thought “Huh, this wasn’t so bad.”

Part of a read aloud’s magic is its power to change student perceptions around books.  My goal, OUR goal, is to create and encourage readers. I encourage you to bring oral reading into your classroom.  I am going to be braver in the coming weeks and embrace a full class read aloud, so students can simply enjoy hearing a story for a few minutes each day.

Maggie Lopez has made the move west to Utah where the mountains are a gorgeous golden purple every day and ski season is around the corner.  She is indulging in promoting banned books this week with students and currently reading a student rec, Brain on Fire.  Follow her on Twitter at @meg_lopez0.

On In Defense of Read Alouds. Please, do.

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?

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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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
  4. 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.

 

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