Saturday, June 8, 2013

Read Alouds in Middle Grades: Are They Important?

Many educators debate on whether reading aloud to middle grade readers is beneficial. Some believe it is too passive of an experience. Why read to the kids when they can already read? Well, I have done some research, and I would like to explore what two reader teachers have concluded and try to relate those conclusions to my own experience.

First, we know that language development begins with listening. Infants learn language first from listening to their parents. Also, when someone learns a second language, he or she will listen and understand first before repeating and speaking. For example, in college, I minored in Spanish and spent a summer abroad studying at the University of Guadalajara. I will contend that it was much easier for me to understand what others were saying than it was for me to repeat an intelligent answer. It took almost the entire three months before I really felt comfortable interacting using basic conversation skills, despite understanding most of what was being said. Therefore, listening comprehension comes before reading comprehension. If I heard a word spoken in Spanish frequently than it would be easier for me to pick it up in my reading comprehension of the text. In the language lab, I spent hours listening to tapes, while following along with the text. The more hours I worked with read alouds the greater my reading comprehension skills became in the new language.

Trelease, the author of the Read Aloud Handbook, states that listening vocabulary fuels reading vocabulary, and that there is a difference between a students listening level and reading level. He argues that parents and teachers should be reading higher level texts aloud to students or their children, which in turn will introduce new vocabulary and comprehension. Furthermore, he argues that the book should be promoting the IQ (intelligence) and their HQ (heart). On the other hand, individual reading can be set on each student's personal reading level, and is different from group read alouds. Finally, Trelease concludes that read alouds should be apart of all classrooms across all grade levels.

Donalyn Miller, the author of The Book Whisper, and vogue writer on the topic of engaging students to read, states, "Your (teacher) ability to fluently read a text that is inaccessible or challenging to many students aids their comprehension, vocabulary development, and enjoyment. Students can apply their mental effort to building meaning from the book instead of decoding language." In addition, she concludes that share-read alouds are beneficial. "Share-reading involves you reading aloud to students while they each follow along in their copy. Share-reading may increase students' reading speed because they have to keep up with a reader who reads at a faster rate then they do. Students' sight recognition of vocabulary improves because unknown words are pronounced for them. Again students' focus can be steered toward comprehension versus decoding."

Personally, I agree with their claims. Let's look at teaching classroom novels. It is not easy to teach a novel, and the Common Core wants teachers to compare and contrast possibly two at a time along with other shorter texts all within the scope of a thematic unit. This can be a challenge time wise, and it is very difficult to hit on a classroom novel that all students can read fluently on their own. I have found that it is more engaging for the students to read shorter texts on their own, and I read aloud the novels to them. For example, if we are reading The Diary of Anne Frank, which has very difficult vocabulary, I might begin the lesson with students reading an article on World War II individually and silently. They could use their close reading skills, write down any new vocabulary, and it can be accomplished in fifteen minutes or so. Then, we could discuss as a class as I then introduce the novel reading for that class period. As a result, I am able to assess how each student reads individually, while also offering an opportunity to increase their reading vocabulary through the read aloud of the novel. In my experience, middle grades readers enjoy articles that supplement the text because it can be accomplished in a short period of time, and it creates a deeper understanding of the novel. Students also enjoy being read to as well. Many seem to crave it, especially if you have an art for it. I believe it is nurturing for them, and they need a reader role model.

My final thoughts are reading taught in the classroom should be a combination of silent sustained reading, read-alouds, and reading between students (group reading). There is not one perfect strategy, because all students are different. As with everything in life, there needs to be a balance. My desire is to achieve that balance in the upcoming school year in hopes of creating a love for reading among all of my students.

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