I LOVE children’s literature! My schedule always included 20 minutes of reading aloud to my class as they unwind and rehydrate after recess. Year after year read-aloud time was their favorite part of the day.
And thanks to Scholastic Book Club and a boat load of points, I curated a vast classroom library of books for my students to choose from. We used books as mentor texts and for author studies. I wanted to immerse my students in wonderful stories and spark an interest in wanting to read more on their own.
This summer, I started reading “Shifting the Balance – 6 Ways to Bring the Science of Reading into the Balanced Literacy Classroom” by Jan Burkins, and Kari Yates. I have to admit that rethinking the methods I had been taught since college and reinforced through district programs is challenging. I am trying to be open-minded to hear opposing views because ultimately I want to do what is best for my students. I am embracing the motto, “When I know better, I can do better!”
So one of my first panic attacks centered around the question, “Do I have to stop reading rich engaging stories to my students?”
Where does reading aloud to students fit with the Science of Reading findings?
Language comprehension includes the ability to understand spoken words. From the time we are born, we build up a language bank of words from the conversations, songs, and words we hear people use. These spoken words form the foundation for early literacy.
For example, a preschool child understands what a refrigerator is long before he could ever read the printed word. The opposite can also be true. A child might be able to decode a word, but if he never heard the word before or doesn’t know what it means, their reading comprehension will suffer.
Let me give you an example. I had a 2nd-grade ELL who was reading at grade level and doing well across the curriculum. One day she was reading a nonfiction passage and came to the word snout. She was able to sound it out just fine. However, when I asked her what is the pig’s snout, she had no idea. The photograph of the pig was no help because she had only heard and understood the word nose.
Hollis Scarborough came up with a metaphor to explain how a reader’s language comprehension and word recognition skills tie together to form a skilled reader. She uses this rope diagram to show how different literacy strands are woven together to create a proficient reader. It is known as the Scarborough’s Rope model (Scarborough, 2001). Language comprehension is made up of background knowledge, vocabulary knowledge, language structures, verbal reasoning, and literacy knowledge.
In the case of my student, she lacked the background knowledge and vocabulary knowledge to understand what /s/ /n/ /o/ /u/ /t/ meant. Those two missing strands led to the breakdown of her comprehending a decodable word.
So How Do We Build Our Students’ Language Comprehension?
Fortunately, there are many things you already do that support language comprehension. This includes classroom discussions, open-ended questions, and reading aloud to children!
Reading aloud is a child’s introduction to the literary world. The books expose the child to ideas and vocabulary beyond everyday conversations. The child begins to make the connection that books tell a story or give information.
“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children. The benefits are greatest when the child is an active participant.” (Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, & Wilkinson, 1985)
We can magnify the impact of reading aloud to children by thinking aloud while reading to the class. An interactive read-aloud promotes discussions about topics in critical and significant ways. (Wisemen, 2010)
What’s Different About an Interactive Reading Aloud?
During an interactive read-aloud, the teacher occasionally pauses to invite conversation or allow students to respond to the story. It is called interactive because the child moves from being a passive listener to an active participant.
Ways Students Can Respond
- Thumbs Up / Thumbs Down
- Pair & Share Turn & Talk
- Draw / Write on a dry-erase board
Through an interactive read-aloud teachers can model and teach important concepts and build vocabulary understanding. This is especially important for ELL students.
How to Choose Reading Aloud Books?
The more intentional we are about the books we read aloud and how we engage children in talking about them, the more they will benefit children’s language development (Swanson et al. 2011)
Read-aloud books should include a wide range of stories and topics. Look for books that allow children to see how different characters live, how they handle their problems, or face their fears. Also include nonfiction books to nurture interests and develop vocabulary beyond everyday conversations.
It is important to note that not every book makes a good read-aloud book. Effective interactive read aloud lessons require some preplanning.
7 Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Text For Reading Aloud
- Is it worth sharing with my class?
- Will the book spark discussion?
- Will the book help explore relationships or concepts?
- Does the book’s message build understanding?
- Is the story memorable?
- Can the story be used as a mentor text?
- Will the book encourage the children to want to read more by the author?
So the good news is, reading aloud to children IS beneficial to all students! It is a practice both sides of the discussion agree upon.
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Additional research-based benefits of reading aloud
- It gives experiences with language that requires students to make sense of ideas. (Trelease, 2013)
- Encourages children to focus on important text ideas and reflect on them. (Doiron, 1994)
- Helps students make connections across cultures to real-life situations. (Barton, 1990)
- Increases students’ interest in independent reading. (Serafini and Giorgis, 2003)
- Enhances imagination, creativity, memory, and curiosity. (Bridge, 2009)
- Grows background knowledge and understanding of universal concepts. (Dyson, 1994)
- Increases students’ listening skills and attention spans. (Koralek, 2003)
- It supports learning about the conventions of texts. (Wiseman, 2010)
- Permits students to hear what proficient reading sounds like. (Torgesen, 2004)
- Introduces students to the pleasures of reading and texts of all kinds. (Barrentine, 1996)
- Improves independent reading proficiency. (Neuman, 2000)
- Builds classroom community. (Mooney, 1990).