Why is read aloud so important in every classroom? In conversations with our teachers, visits to classrooms, and considering new information from our recent visit to #ILA15 (International Literacy Association) convention this year in St. Louis, we’ve come up with five reasons we think teachers need to read aloud every day in every (yes every) grade level.
#5 Reading Aloud helps develop a community of readers. You could call read aloud the “oldest book club” in the word. But it’s even better than that because it’s in the moment. Twenty five eager listeners find out together if “Ivan” will ever be happy in his new home. They learn to choose kindness in the pages of Wonder, and they begin to understand that it’s okay to be an Absolutely Almost just like Albie. They do these things alongside of friends–and it becomes all the more meaningful.
#4 Reading Aloud to students helps expose them to text levels they can’t access on their own. As David Booth said, “One thing you offer kids is that you can read (texts that) they can’t.” You “represent for them the literacy texts they can’t handle yet through the eye, but they can handle through the ear” (Webinar: 2005). As cited in Steven Layne’s newest book In Defense of Read Aloud, students can comprehend when listening at least two grade levels above their independent reading level. And this speaks to all students, from kindergarten to seniors in high school. Reading aloud wipes away any struggle that may exist with decoding. It evens the playing field. Suddenly, all students can contribute to the conversation.
#3 Reading Aloud gives students the opportunity to engage in critical conversations. These conversations help them to be critical thinkers rather than passive receivers of ideas. Once students begin to recognize and discuss issues of concern to them and connect these issues and ideas to their lives, they begin take action in the world. What could be more important?
#2 Reading Aloud provides opportunities to model strategies to build independent reading skills. When students are finding a text meaningful and enjoyable, it’s the perfect time for teachable moments. Teachers are able to show the work that readers do each time they open the pages of a book, making complicated processes more transparent and transferrable. Whether it’s Know and Wonder work highlighted in Vinton’s What Readers Really Do or Beer’s Notice and Note signposts, read aloud supports the development of independent reading habits that can last a lifetime.
#1 Reading Aloud hooks readers. Chances are, you remember that one teacher (maybe more if you’re lucky) who read aloud. For me, it was my high school English teacher. He read Great Expectations and we talked about it. It was that simple, yet it was the first time in my life I considered issues from different viewpoints, the first time I really wanted to know what happened. At that point, the literacy door cracked open a little wider. For Jen, it was Mr. Brewer reading Treasure Island in sixth grade. It wasn’t just a read aloud, it was a performance. His voice boomed down the hallways, and a student or two from another class could always be seen peeking in, mesmerized by the tone, rhythm, and animation of a master storyteller.
As Steven Layne said in a recent Webinar, you will most certainly have a student or two who says, I hate reading. Read aloud may not change that mindset completely. But … and this is an important but … for many students, it will be the first positive experience they have ever had with a book. Imagine the power in that sentence. Teachers have the power through reading aloud to open students’ eyes to the power of reading.
Reading aloud can be a game changer for students who need it most. It can crack open the door–as it did for us–and open up a new world. What are you reading tomorrow?
~ Darla and Jen