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Teacher to Teacher:  Does Reading Aloud Really Matter?

By Lynne R. Dorfman

As our already crowded day continues to be even more crowded, how do we fit in time to read aloud to our students?  Does reading aloud really matter? There are many reasons to read aloud, even when you are tempted to snatch that time for more independent reading and writing, or to fit in science or social studies.

A rationale for reading aloud is multi-faceted. It stimulates language development and helps students move more naturally into reading. When we read aloud to our students, we not only model what a fluent reader looks and sounds like; we also model just how enjoyable the act of reading can be. Starting at pre-K and K levels, we want our students to understand that print is meaningful. We show them the power of story – how it can move us to laughter and tears – sometimes within the covers of one picture book.  We want our students to connect with the text and react to what is read. Reading aloud certainly fosters an interest in books.

Reading aloud gives teachers a chance to “think aloud” in order to make the process of comprehension visible.  We get a chance to practice a strategy with students, providing insights into how reading works and help our students develop a new vocabulary and syntactic structures. Most of all, it helps our students to become ‘imagineers,’ a term coined by Walt Disney.  Reading aloud exposes our students to a wide range of genres and will enable them to transfer scaffolds, syntactic structures, new words, and literary devices to their writing pieces through imitation.

indefenseofthereadaloudFinally, reading aloud encourages a lifelong commitment to reading. In Steven L. Layne’s In Defense of Read-Aloud: Sustaining Best Practice, position statements from leading literacy gurus and authors are sprinkled throughout the book.  Layne states that the read aloud is a time when significant instruction takes place. For example, a teacher can think aloud to discuss how highly descriptive passages of action are crafted, and teach us how to visualize. Teachers’ instincts tell them where to stop reading and ask a question. Layne tells us to remember that there is a reading skill that is tied to each question that is posed.

catchingreadersThis idea of using the read aloud to instruct is echoed in Catching Readers Before They Fall: Supporting Readers Who Struggle, K-4 by Katie Keier and Pat Johnson. They define the traditional read aloud as one that is rendered for pure enjoyment – to let the wonderful words wash over the young readers like a rolling ocean wave – refreshing, playful, constant.  This time is not attached to standards or the learning of a strategy or skill. They discuss another kind of read aloud – the interactive read aloud.  Here the teacher uses read aloud time to instruct. It is purposeful, and the teacher works to engage the students in talk before, during, and after the experience.  The key here is to talk about the text in the presence of a supportive community – a community where students respect each other’s opinions, nudge each other forward with probing questions, and share their problem-solving strategies.

In “Let the Words Work Their Magic,” Lucy Calkins presents her thinking about read alouds. She says that for many classrooms, the morning read aloud brings the community together and “…acts as a blessing on the day.”   Calkins cautions us, however, not to stop too frequently to ask questions and get our students to turn and talk. She says that engagement in the text is the single most important habit we need to model. Calkins advocates for the use of nonfiction texts as read alouds to introduce topics, support students’ interests, build background knowledge, and enable students to deal with more complex texts on subjects that are introduced through reading aloud.

I would like to close with a quote from Mem Fox (2001) that is as true now as it was over a decade ago:

litworldWRAD15logo-web“If we want our children to learn how to read anything – let alone to read more or to read more diverse or more difficult material – it helps immeasurably if we can give them as much experience of the world as possible.  We can provide a great deal of information by the act of reading itself.  The more we read aloud to our kids and the more they read by themselves, the more experience they’ll have of the world through the things they encounter in books. “ (Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever, p. 100)


Lynne R. Dorfman profileLynne Dorfman is a co-director for PAWLP. Her latest book, co-authored with Diane Dougherty, is Grammar Matters: Lessons, Tips, & Conversations Using Mentor Texts, K-6.

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