Read alouds may be the reason I was ever drawn to teaching to begin with. Some of my fondest memories as an elementary student are those of my teachers reading books to me. I distinctly remember Mrs. Gregory reading The Boxcar Children to my second grade class, and Mrs. Lyerly’s voices for The Best Christmas Pageant Ever made it one of the most entertaining reads ever! These are the moments I anticipated most even in my high school years when I envisioned my future career. According to Gay Ivey, most middle school students also refer to teacher read alouds as their best reading experiences (Ivey, 2003). I thoroughly enjoy reading to my students. The thrill of choosing a book that will keep them hooked is something truly inexplicable!
No educator would argue the benefits of student read alouds. In every classroom I’ve ever interned or observed, teachers have dedicated daily time to read to their students. And in each classroom, students have automatically become engaged and excited about the reading. Whether students move onto a rug around a rocking chair or they stay seated in their own seats, their body language suggests total interest and intrigue in the subject at hand.
Reading aloud is an extremely versatile activity. While we most often rely on our favorite novels (in the intermediate grades) to spark interest during this time, newspapers, informational texts, picture books, and countless other types of texts can be utilized during this time. In fact, we should be using diverse types of literature. If we can introduce students to different types of texts through read alouds, they may be much more likely to pick up different types of books for independent reading (Ivey, 2003). According to Heisey and Kucan, students who are presented specific science concepts through instruction with read alouds show greater understanding of these topics (2010).
Why are these moments so monumental within a classroom? Why do students consistently reflect on books teachers read to them as favorite memories? As more experienced readers, teachers are able to impress their own sophisticated perceptions into their reading of the text. This allows students who have yet to achieve these reading levels opportunity to experience text in the more refined way the teacher sees it (Ivey, 2003). One student put it simply, “They use their hands and get into it.” (Ivey, 2003). I love this explanation! We can truly create the drama reading has the potential to unveil before our students’ eyes using read alouds.
I can reflect on my own experience with Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. As I read through the story on my own, I enjoyed the book, but there were some unfamiliar words and names I had to “guess” at. I read it fairly quickly, and probably didn’t allow myself to appreciate the pauses deliberately created by the author. However, to hear Gaiman read selections of the book himself, I experienced it in a totally different way! First of all, the British accent makes all the difference! Gaiman used very dramatic pauses to accentuate the suspenseful moments of the text. I chose to listen to chapter seven, part two, where Mr. Frost’s true and evil identity is revealed and all of the Jacks show up. It was wonderful to hear Gaiman’s depiction of the voices of each character. He was truly able to use his understanding of the characters (which was exact considering he’s the author) to inflect his voice in a way that showcased their individual personas. I wanted to keep listening! It was a really powerful experience as an educator. This certainly helped me realize how important it is to read aloud with true appreciation for the author’s choice of words and syntax. These individuals write their stories or their texts with conviction and intentions that are very specific. If the characters are “singing” on the page then, by gosh, I should sing to the class! This is certainly something I will share with my students, especially since I have a couple students who are currently reading this book.
I’ve just begun to read The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate to my class. This is the perfect time for some “fun” reading, and also some integration of research. We’re using the Internet workshop to practice research skills and compare Ivan’s life to that of gorillas in the wild. Questioning during my read alouds comes fairly naturally to me. I enjoy analyzing the best places to pause for reflection or predictions while reading. I’ve used the Text Talk program created by Beck & McKeown several times, and try to model many of my questions on these. However, I know I fall short with the variety of informational texts I read. I’m using this opportunity to practice that. A website about gorillas in the wild is certainly informational, and yet a non-traditional type of text. By reading information on the site aloud and juxtaposing it with the novel about Ivan’s life, I am able to model different types of reading and analyzing texts.
I’m so excited to have a week dedicated to reading aloud! It is always wonderful to see reminders of how important and influential this time can be, along with models of how extremely fun it is!