Tuesday, February 10, 2009

To Read Aloud or Not to Read Aloud

Scientists referenced in the news article “Infants Learn Earlier than Thought” (The Seattle Times, February 04, 2009) suggest that parents begin reading to their children in utero and continue to read to them ever after. Sounds like a good idea to me—one I certainly tried to follow with my own daughter.

I read to Sara until she was old enough to read to me and then we’d take turns reading to one another. One day when Sara was home from school sick, we spent time finishing up Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows. I was reading as we got to the ending when Old Dan and Little Ann defend Billy against the mountain lion (this is the place I need to tell you that I’m an animal lover supreme and a big-dog owner). I think I started crying when Old Dan got hurt and by the time he was home and dying I was sobbing so hard I couldn’t see the words on the page to read and I couldn’t have gotten the words out of my mouth between the sobs anyhow. Sara kept saying, “It’s okay, Mom, I’ll read.” I kept saying (you know, being the strong mom), “No, I’ll read.” And I couldn’t, and by then she was crying, too. We decided on a 15-minute break when we cried together and then washed our faces with cold wash cloths. We came back and finished the novel.

It wasn’t long after Where the Red Fern Grows that Sara’s class in school began reading chapter books together and before long she and I no longer read them to one another. We did engage in the “higher level conversations” about books that Franki Sibberson mentions in her February 9 post to her blog, A Year of Reading and there were books aplenty around the house, but I missed our read alouds. Now as adults we pass books back and forth to one another, enjoying many of the same writers, and I share reading conversations with my granddaughter—what reading fun!

But there are kids all over who aren’t ever read aloud to by their parents and who aren’t sharing tears or fun over books. What about them?

So, would I advocate a national campaign to encourage parents to read aloud to their kids, like Jen Robinson has suggested on her blog ? Yes, I think so. Would you?

23 comments:

Teacherninja said...

No question about it.

Franki said...

I would, but I think I would broaden the campaign and offer parents LOTS Of ways to get involved in their children's lives as readers. Maybe a whole list of possibilities so that they can come in where they are comfortable and then add from there. Read aloud being a key to it all for sure. But not limited to that.

Jen Robinson said...

Thanks for writing about this, Millie! Franki, I've been thinking about what you said, here and on your own blog, and what I actually think is that the campaign should be for people to read-aloud WITH their children (or students, nieces, etc.). The WITH encompasses the child reading, or both parties using audiobooks, etc. I agree that this is still not perfect, that some kids won't sit still for read-aloud, but you can talk books with them, etc. BUT I also think that by focusing on read-aloud, if you broaden it just a bit with that WITH to capture all types of reading aloud together, you capture a significant portion of the benefit. And it's simple enough to get people out there and talking about it, and direct enough to be clear to people. I don't think anyone wants to limit things to read-aloud, but if you're going to have a national campaign, it has to be simple enough to get the word out. That's my two cents on it, anyway, though I am far from an expert.

Jean C said...

My 14 year old son and I read aloud for an hour each day. At first it was a scheduled task, now it is the highlight of the day. Two identical books, each of us taking a turn reading a page. The understanding and connections we share go way beyond the printed page.

It tugs at my heart to look over at a boy that is much taller than me, and see that he smiles while he reads aloud.

P.S. 48 years old, and I too bawled and blubbered reading "Where the Red Fern Grows."

Carol said...

I work in an urban school. Many (most?) of our children do not get read to at home. I totally support the idea of reading aloud at home (and still read to my teenage athlete sons). Like Franki, however, I wonder whether there are things we could do to make read aloud more accessible to urban parents. I am playing around with starting a read aloud time at the school every morning when parents are dropping kids off, or at the end of the school day when they pick up. I also think about a regular read aloud time on a radio channel, at a time when kids are likely to be in the car, or ????

gillis.jean@gmail.com said...

I read aloud to my continuation school students and they follow along in the text. I tell them, "I have practiced for a long time learning how to read out loud as quickly as you would in your head." I make a great effort to enliven the language and pull them into the realm of the book. I believe most of my students were never read to, and as a result they never developed the staying power that comfortable readers have. We build our stamina for reading. I want each to student to have read entire books, and guided reading is one way to accomplish that.

Kate said...

Absolutely!!!!!!As a mother and a teacher I find this an invaluable and unused way to communicate. I try to read aloud a picture book at family gatherings. In November by Cynthia Rylant is a great one to use at Thanksgiving.

Mrs. DeRaps said...

I agree! I read aloud to my high school students and they absolutely love it. I think that this idea should not end with elementary students-- Don't we all love to HEAR a good story?

JTchr said...

I read to my students in class all the time... and I think they actually look forward to it! I tell them it's my chance to practice my reading and acting skills, but I think they see through that excuse!

The Literacy Ambassador said...

We already have many national initiatives that encourage reading aloud to children. I believe "read with your child" has become for many busy families like the phrase "how are you?" (it doesn't really mean anything any more). I say all that to add - it is CRITICAL but what we are doing now is basically "preaching to the choir". We must find a way to meaningfully engage those families who do not read with their children and therein lies the challenge. I believe the key is MEANINGFUL. Reading (and writing) are tools for life; not some abstract luxury upper to middle class families engage in. Reading with your child is a stress reliever, an escape - and don't we all need that. It's bigger than the book.

Tapping into social service agencies and organizations like Head Start seems to be a pathway to me.

Marilyn J. Hollman said...

I was so glad to read the comments about teachers reading aloud - - no matter what the students' ages. Everyone needs to know "the way it's s'posed to go," and reading aloud is one way of knowing.
The idea of making the read-aloud sessions at school part of the community seems like a fine and do-able project, too.
But, we all need to prepare and practice.

CH said...

As luck yould have it, today I was reading Sojourner Truth's and Anna Cooper's speeches to my class otday and one student asked if I had practiced reading/performing them. I admitted that I had read them out loud once before to the earlier class but that I had not practiced the reading. He was quite surpirsed that anybody could read passionately or emotionally without practice. I read aloud with my three children at home so it seems natural to me to be connected with the printed word. What happens in this young man's home? There is a great deal of effort put into literacy projects but littel seems to be done for connecting with the text. Maybe we need do need a national day (Although I am in Canada and we can use it too). Thanks for bringin this idea forward.

Chris

Ellen Nicholson Walker said...

Of course. Duh. Absolutely. Without a doubt.
Actually, I already have. See my blog:
http://whattoreadtochildren.blogspot.com/

Claire said...

I would absolutely support such a campaign, but in the meantime I think there's value in starting personal campaigns when we have the resources to do so. For example, in addition to reading aloud to my own children, I made sure that each niece and nephew received books on birthdays and at Christmas. Now that all of them are grown and several are starting their own families, I've initiated "Auntie Claire's Book Club." Each great-niece or nephew gets, at birth, a set of bookends and a certificate enrolling him/her in the club. Then each month for the first year, s/he gets a book and a letter (!) from "Auntie Claire." I have a great time picking out the books and writing the letters. I supplement these efforts with gifts to nieces/nephews/friends' children who are expecting with copies of Jim Trelease's Read Aloud Handbook. I don't know if ALL of my great nieces/nephews are read to every day, but I know the books are there, and I know that at least some of them are . . . probably the majority. (I try to make sure the books are ones parents will enjoy, too.)

ON A RELATED NOTE: I am a huge advocate of teachers reading aloud and reading aloud WELL. As a teacher educator, I encourage my students to hone their read aloud skills, and when I was a high school teacher (back in the day), I often read aloud to my high school students. They seemed to enjoy being read aloud to by someone who really "got in to it"--and it was a great way to hook them on a book when I wanted to. (I'd read only the opening pages and try to find a catchy place to stop . . . )

crazylady said...

Reading aloud is important for students of all ages; I read to my high school students, and I have them read aloud during class on a regular basis as well. They thought that it was unusual to have oral reading in high school, but they do much better on tests, they've seen their vocabulary scores improve, and I know that they've read the assigned selections!

Lorraine Caplan said...

Sometimes I even read to my college students. Last few term I picked a longish short story and read for ten minutes at the end of each class. Since it was an evening class, we all had a sort of "bedtime story" feeling about this, and this is something I plan to keep on doing. I read to my own children for as long as they allowed me to, into their teens, actually, and I hope I am giving my college students enough of this experience to help them do the same for their children.

Cat said...

I AGREE! I not only read to my own children and have since the moment they arrived in our lives, I read to my 9th grade students. And they love it (all my kids).

I often wonder if I'm doing my 9th graders a disservice by reading aloud to them...once they leave high school I don't think college professors or bosses in the workplace will read to them. How do I balance teaching them to read, yet providing them the experience of being read to?

Claire said...

Cat-
I think providing them with the experience of being read to is an important part of teaching them to read. There are very real literacy skills involved in listening to a text--skills that are different from, but no less important than, those involved in encountering a text in print. And, in this day of podcasts, books in MP3 format, books on CD, and so on, it's important to have good "audio reading" skills.

Also, I think that students who hear texts read aloud may be more enthusiastic about print texts.

For what it's worth, and I'm ONLY posting this ONCE! (I hope!)

Mrs. Schwartz said...

Of course it is important to read to young people, and even older people, but the power from the story on the blog comes from the reader willing to share emotions and thoughts as the work is being read. The power is in the communication: reading and response.

Mona said...

I work in an alternative high school where many of the parents do not speak, much less read, English. In addition, many of my students are parents themselves. I want to put together a parents' class in which I convey to them the value of creating a literacy rich home environment which includes reading aloud. Any ideas about approaching the parents -- both teens & older?

~Mona

Tom said...

Jean C. Your comment covers it all. "The understnading and the connections WE SHARE go way beyond the page. I am impatient to teach my urban high school students, or in any environment, the "connections" in reading. More so, the "epiphany" in poetry and short stories. Pehaps the theme, the tone or "voice", the author's purpose, the "sharing" of the story. I think sharing is "teaching". Reading Around and Aloud allows readers to share their experience with the text, the story, and the connections. Reading aloud allows the readers to share and ADD VALUE to their experiences and ideas. As Mrs. Swartz commented, "The power is in the communication. Tom

Anonymous said...

I remember being read to 15 minutes a day by my Grade 6 teacher (several decades ago). The whole class was mesmerized. Today, for 15 minutes, the students in my district, if not the whole province, are supposed to read a book of their choosing to themselves. Many cannot do it. I have students read short passages to me in an after-school outreach, so they can gain the skills of active reading and inflecting. They also listen to short passages so they gain the skill of active listening.

To me though, the text has always been visual. I can see words swimming and soaring, dipping and jumping in play. I have trouble comprehending the spoken text. It always seems like a modulating, almost nonsensical echo.

Perhaps I can learn from my students! As always I hope they fare better than me.

Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed reading all your entries. I read to my students and they read to me;however, I find that many of my weaker readers do not follow in their books. As I read, they listen and watch me. When I am finished, they enjoy talking about what I have read. They ask questions that give me insight into their comprehension. Reading together is a special experience, but "talking about reading" is more special to me.