Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Revisit the Read Aloud

Do you miss read alouds? In many of today's classrooms, reading aloud with children has been squeezed out or, perhaps even worse, has become a clinical, teacher-directed instructional piece to the point where it's lifeblood and impact have been depleted.

Take a look at an abbreviated list of values for reading aloud with students:

Pure enjoyment of great stories/growing motivation and interest in reading
Taking students to a different level of understanding of the story (Bloom’s
Taxonomy concepts)
Discussion and reinforcement of story elements
Reflecting on the text and searching for multiple meanings
Exploring the elements and format of print and story
Practicing and modeling specific comprehension strategies such as questioning,
predicting, clarifying, etc.
Building and activating background knowledge
Using inference
Understanding of the writing process, use of grammar, point of view,
writer’s voice, word choice and other writing-related skills.
Introducing and reinforcing vocabulary
Reinforcing content area learning
Modeling and Practicing “think-aloud” and visualization
Introducing and/or reinforcing summarizing skills

This list reads like a list of standards. I expect you can find at least a few of your state's embedded here.

So what's the deal? What I recommend to many teachers is to step back. Look at what you do as a reader when you read text. It is an active and interactive process. You draw on all you know about how to figure out those squiggles on the page and the meaning behind them, almost effortlessly. Our students are still learning about those through comprehension strategy instruction, decoding instruction and fluency practice. So open up your brain. Get off the "lesson" channel and just explore, think, wonder, figure out and celebrate great writing.

It doesn't have to take 30 minutes - try 5 or 10 (most picture books can be read in that length of time). Evaluate the "down times" in your day - waiting for students to arrive, during the "morning meeting"/first few minutes of class, before or after lunch, closing out the day. There IS time.

When you take this approach to reading aloud with your students, it will have an incredible impact.

Do you know about the research behind read alouds (there is actually quite a bit)? Dr. Wesley Sharp has written an excellent article summarizing some of it on Educationworld.com. Dr. Maryann Manning's take includes not only references to research but also personal experiences. My favorite principal of all time, Dr. Reba Wadsworth, has great insight into this area as well. One more resource: Katherine Goldner's action research in conjunction with her graduate studies. It so clearly illustrates the value of such "in the classroom" experiments and evaluation.

I'd love to hear from real teachers out there using (or not using) read alouds. What have your experiences been?

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