Reading Aloud – An Act of Love and Courage
By Meg Griffin
When asked to write a blog post on children’s, YA, or professional books that have influenced me, I quickly said yes. This would be a piece of cake. I would write about the first book that I ever stayed up all night to read – Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, in third grade. The fact that one of the characters was named Meg, an uncommon name back in the early 60s, only made it resonate more with me. Oh how I loved the March sisters and their sense of family closeness which was lacking in my own. But wait, that book is so old-fashioned and really doesn’t seem to speak to today’s students.
So after a brief moment I decided I would write about Parker Palmer’s The Courage to Teach. I first read it many years ago and remember feeling validated and emboldened. Today’s environment in education needs teachers to feel emboldened and to be honest. Be honest with their students, with parents, and with administrators. The insanity of testing and curriculum packed days is not serving our students. And for the sake of our very souls we must find that courage to actually teach. But, on second thought, I felt that this book might be too heavy, too much of a downer in our already stressful existence. Maybe I should choose something light.
House on Hackman’s Hill by Joan Lowery Nixon is what I am currently reading aloud in my classroom. I need to shut my door because read aloud, and fiction no less, seems to be the ugly stepchild in reading these days. But I know the value of read aloud, and how can my students write if they don’t experience authentic literature? So, every year around this time, as autumn leaves change and afternoons grow dark early, I read House on Hackman’s Hill to my fourth graders. Fourth grade is an awesome age. They are on the cusp of tweenhood, straddling the world of little kids, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, with, on the other side, boyfriends and girlfriends, peer pressure and life in general.
Nixon is a master storyteller, crafting a tale with just the right amount of horror and suspense. Each and every chapter ends with a cliffhanger. As I approach the last few words, my students sense the end and start to nervously anticipate my putting the book down. The end of our stolen read aloud time is often met with moans of, “No! Don’t stop. Please read just one more chapter.” Sometimes I am able to carve out a few more minutes, but with today’s curricular demands, I am already running catch up and must make the eager students wait another day. And truthfully, I experience a guilty delight in their pleas.
As I sit and write this, I realize that all three books are connected and speak to my inner reader. As a child I loved reading, from Little Women to Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew. I would read anything and everything. Sometimes the only things available to read were cereal boxes, which were always better than nothing. Read aloud is a time where many of my students first feel that love of reading, that sense of not wanting to stop. Parker Palmer in Courage to Teach challenges us to be honest and do what needs to be done for our students and for our integrity as educators. I hope I am doing that.
Meg has had many careers in her adult life from stockbroker to baker to brain injury nurse. The fates conspired until she finally found her passion – teaching. A PAWLP Writing Fellow since 2005, Meg teaches fourth grade in the Central Bucks School District. She regularly presents at local and national conferences, particularly on technology integration. Meg is the production editor of PAWLP’s e-zine 210 East Rosedale. email@example.com
Brava, Meg, for following your heart and convictions. As a child I loved being read to, especially when my father read poems from his Modern Poetry Anthology, edited by Louis Untermeyer, from college. I had no idea what Robert Penn Warren and Vachel Lindsay and James Weldon Johnson were really talking about, but the sound of my father’s voice and the music in the language of these poems were hypnotic. When I taught The Writer’s Craft at Conestoga High School, I would read poems aloud to my students, and they, too, enjoyed it. They would read their own poems aloud to the large group or to those in their small groups. This way they got to hear and share the sound of their own voices. They got to be bards, which is how poetry was originally conveyed. I love the idea of reviving the oral tradition, be i in poetry or prose or music. I would hope that testing never takes precedence over honoring this tradition in both elementary and secondary education.