Sometime after 1979, while teaching third grade in Monroeville, Indiana, I ordered a book from the Weekly Reader Book Club titled Read-Aloud Handbook for Parents and Teachers. I had been reading to my classes since I started teaching…but I bought the book because it included a “Detailed guide to more than 150 read-alouds” and I welcomed the list of more books to read.
The Read-Aloud Handbook for Parents and Teachers started me on a career-long fanship of Jim Trelease and Read-Aloud. I not only read to my students, I became an active advocate of Read-Aloud. I gave presentations on Reading Aloud, I talked to teachers and parents about Read-Aloud, and I began the tradition of giving a copy of the Read-Aloud Handbook for Parents and Teachers (which has since been expanded and gone through 7 printings) to colleagues when they (or their spouse) gave birth to their first child.
In 1985 the report of the Commission on Reading, Becoming a Nation of Readers, had this to say about reading aloud (p. 23)…
The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.
Teachers know that motivation to read is self-perpetuating. Once you get someone hooked on reading, they teach themselves.
And how exactly does a person become proficient at reading?…
- The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it.
Better readers learn better, do better in school, and yes, even get better scores on tests. Reading aloud to students motivates students to read more, and it’s corollary, SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) gives them the opportunity to read just for fun, with no strings attached, no consequences, no book reports, no tests…just to read for pleasure. Both, in combination, contribute to improved reading and increased learning.
Is it ok to teach while you read aloud? to ask questions? to have students predict what will happen next? to do all the things that teachers do to help students become better and more efficient readers (or in the case of read-aloud, listeners)? Of course.
However, reading aloud doesn’t always have to be connected to the curriculum or for some academic “purpose.” Trelease makes a point to mention this in Ch 4 of the Read-Aloud Handbook, The Dos and Don’ts of Read Aloud.
- If you are a teacher, don’t feel you have to tie every book to class work. Don’t confine the broad spectrum of literature to the narrow limits of the curriculum…
- Don’t impose interpretations of a story upon your audience. A story can be just plain enjoyable, no reason necessary, and still give you plenty to talk about. The highest literacy gains occur with children who have access to discussions following a story…
Discuss a book after it’s finished…but don’t interrupt the flow of the reading to ask questions. Let the students ask questions during reading if they want to…the teacher’s job in reading aloud is to…Read. Aloud.
IS THIS A “MAJOR SHIFT” BROUGHT ABOUT BY CCSS?
Reading aloud for pleasure is important so I understand why Nancy Bailey is outraged at an article in Education Week about reading aloud. In Stealing the Joy of Reading—How Common Core Destroys Reading Pleasure she comes down on the side of research-based reading for pleasure.
Education Week is having a webinar on new approaches to reading aloud in K-2nd grade (New Strategies for Reading Aloud to K-2 Students, Thurs. June 18, 2-3 p.m ET). The underwriting for the webinar is through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and with Common Core the idea is that you must move away from the “cozy” reading gatherings to “crafting questions that guide children back to the text to build vocabulary, content knowledge, and evidence-based understanding of the text.”
What a complete lack of trust in children! To manipulate this sacrosanct process in honor of Common Core programming is nothing less than heresy!
As a parent and teacher I am here to tell you the most important thing anyone can do with a young child (and even an older one) is read aloud to them. It’s so simple—so pure in its intent and approach! Teachers, parents and librarians have been thrilling children for years by simply reading aloud. Questions flow naturally. It needs no fine tuning!
To make educators and parents feel like they must subscribe to constructing questions, and emphasizing vocabulary and content knowledge as they read, is harmful. To imply you require evidence the child obtained knowledge from the book destroys the sheer beauty of reading for pleasure.
There is a time and place for analyzing text—especially as children get older—but not during story hour. No way!
Sometimes teachers read aloud to their students for a purpose — to introduce a theme, or to support curricular areas like science and social studies. But the true value of reading aloud is that it motivates students which encourages them to read more. That is what the research shows.
The article in Education Week, written by Catherine Gewertz, says this…
What’s happening in Ms. Landahl’s classroom at Ruby Duncan Elementary School reflects a major shift in reading instruction brought about by the Common Core State Standards. In place in more than 40 states, the standards expect children to read text carefully and be able to cite evidence from it to back up their interpretations. That approach requires teachers to pose “text-dependent” questions—those that can be answered only with a detailed understanding of the material, rather than from students’ own experience. And it’s not just for complex high school books; it’s increasingly being used in reading stories aloud to young children…
Reading aloud to children has a long history as a powerful classroom technique to build foundational literacy skills. It exposes children to different kinds of text structures and language, builds awareness of how sounds are connected to words, and demonstrates phrasing and fluency. Most importantly, in the eyes of many educators, it can foster a loving—and they hope lifetime—relationship with reading.
Increasingly, K-2 teachers are using new questioning techniques as they read aloud to their students. They’re designed to focus children on the meaning of the text, rather than their personal reactions to it.
Some experts worry, however, that an approach like RAP’s can undermine the joy of the read-aloud.
“We have to be very careful that we don’t turn them off more than we turn them on,” said Jim Trelease, the author of The Read-Aloud Handbook. It’s important to prepare children for a challenging book by acquainting them with its new vocabulary, he said. But “breaking up the story constantly with, ‘Let’s talk about this,’ and ‘What about that?,’ Well, gee, how about the plot? All that stopping and starting can become an impediment.”
Is this a “major shift in reading instruction brought about by the Common Core State Standards?”
No. Absolutely not. Unless you call taking credit for something that teachers have been doing for years a “major shift.”
Others noticed this, too. Take a look at a couple of the comments after this article…
“Early childhood teachers have been doing interactive read-alouds, with lots of time for discussion and deep comprehension, for years. Why this is being presented as a new and innovative thing is curious. It has nothing to do with Common Core, and everything to do with good teaching.”
“Teachers have been using these strategies for years; the Common Core may have caused some school systems to focus on them, but they are hardly new or innovative.”
The Common Core didn’t introduce “‘text-dependent’ questions” or a quest for “detailed understanding of the material.” Fact-based questions have been part of reading instruction and reading tests since I was a student in the 50s and 60s…and most likely earlier.
There is, however, something in the Education Week article that I object to…
…”text-dependent” questions—those that can be answered only with a detailed understanding of the material, rather than from students’ own experience. [emphasis added]
They’re designed to focus children on the meaning of the text, rather than their personal reactions to it. [emphasis added]
I find this to be very disturbing, and perhaps this is what angered Nancy Bailey, as well. “Bringing personal reactions to [text]” is important. A “student’s own experience” (aka prior knowledge), which Education Week seems to denigrate as not necessary, is vitally important to an individual’s understanding of text. It’s possible just to regurgitate facts from text — answering “text-dependent” questions if one reads the text carefully — but for a deep understanding one must react to the text.
I like to think that a good book is more a conversation with the author, rather than a lecture. In a conversation both parties participate. If you just want to learn facts to vomit back on some standardized test (pun intended) then participation is irrelevant. If you want to understand, then you need to be involved in the text, and that means you bring your own experience and reactions with you into the story [This also means that teachers when reading aloud, ought to bring their own experiences and reactions with them into the story as they read]. What Education Week appears to be suggesting is that the focus should only be on learning facts — answers to “‘text-dependent’ questions.” Higher level thinking through inferring, evaluating, comparing, etc., is not necessary.
My hunch is that this article in Education Week and the webinar that accompanies it are mostly about providing positive press about the Common Core to teachers. The webinar is, after all, underwritten by Bill Gates who has almost single handedly underwritten the Common Core itself (see HERE, HERE, and HERE).
Unfortunately, the Common Core is flawed...
Two committees made up of 135 people wrote the standards – and not one of them was a K-3 classroom teacher or early childhood education professional. When the CCSS were first released, more than 500 early childhood professionals signed a Joint Statement opposing the standards on the grounds that they would lead to long hours of direct instruction; more standardized testing; and would crowd out highly important active, play-based learning. All of this has come to pass.
Teachers (and parents) ought to read aloud to their students.
They ought to discuss the books after they finish. They can use books in different ways to benefit their students. They ought to also activate prior knowledge before they start reading. They ought to encourage their students to bring their own feelings and experiences with them when they listen. They ought to — and they have been — for a long time.
Sometimes, however, it’s nice just to read a good book together.
The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.