The Power of a Read Aloud

121009_DX_WonderBook.jpg.CROP.article250-mediumI am an advocate of reading aloud to children, and I teach grade 5. I feel like it’s a confession. It’s the first step, and one I would hope everyone would follow.

In the early grades, I think most teachers read to children because they can’t read too well themselves. However, as children get older, reading aloud seems to diminish. When I ask my students in grade 5 how many of them have parents who read aloud, sometimes one child raises his or her hand. Sometimes, I have a class where no one raises their hand.

This year, we’ve read Wonder, Alexandria of Africa, The Hunger Games, The One and Only Ivan, Peak, Owen and Mzee, and Sadako outloud. My 10, 11 and 12-year old students have settled into our cozy rug space and listened after lunch as we’ve explored new fictional worlds. We’ve learned about high altitude sickness and the terror and passion of climbing in Peak. We’ve learned about tolerance and human nature in our all-time favorite, Wonder. We’ve traveled to Africa and been right along with Alexandria as she changed from a troubled teen into someone who cares a lot for others. We’ve cheered for Katniss as she’s battled her way through The Hunger Games. And we’ve been saddened by Ivan’s plot in The One and Only Ivan and wanted to find out more.

Reading has led to inquiry. We often watch videos related to the book like Alexandria of Africa. We’ve seen safaris and learned more about the Masai. We’ve investigated animal treatment and zoos because of The One and Only Ivan. We inquired into probability when reading The Hunger Games. Books spark conversation and inquiry, and together we inquire.

Books have also helped us connect. Just today, when we found out about Mark Wood, explorer, who was turned back on his summit attempt to Mt. Everest, the students immediately said, “Man, it’s just like Peak in the book (Peak).” When they read another book about a boy with autism who was bullied, they immediately thought of Auggie in Wonder. Sadako last year caused a major crane making spree and led us to connect to a school up in Tohoku, Japan, that had been affected by the earthquake.

Finally, read alouds let us connect with each other. It’s our shared reading time. As a class, we come together for an experience. I hear students talking about our books afterward with each other. It’s our cozy time, and my grade 5 students have always come running in after break, excited to be a part of it.

YIS Read Aloud Day 2013

YIS Read Aloud Day 2013

I was happy to have read KQED’s Mind/Shift’s “Why Reading Aloud is valuable to Older Children,” recently where they talked about the power of a read aloud.

“The first reason to read aloud to older kids is to consider the fact that a child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his listening level until about the eighth grade,” said Trelease, referring to a 1984 study performed by Dr. Thomas G. Sticht showing that kids can understand books that aretoo hard to decode themselves if they are read aloud. “You have to hear it before you can speak it, and you have to speak it before you can read it. Reading at this level happens through the ear.”

With all kids, and especially our EAL students in international schools, reading aloud has power. One of my students who struggles with reading loves to listen to a read aloud, and his comprehension has gone way up.

Mind/Shift said: “This is a time — tweens, teens — when life is full of craziness. This is one way to have a place of rest, of being, something to count on each day. Shared words have power, an energy that you can’t get from TV, radio, or online,”…said Dr. Jessica Voight. 

And I agree. Upper elementary years and Middle School is a time of transition for the students. Coming in for a read aloud is a safe place. In the article, they mention how a retired teacher reconnected online with former students some 30 years later. She wanted to know the one thing her former students remembered about her class.

“Without fail, it was the books she read to them.”

I believe in the power of a read aloud.

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