Reading Aloud with Children in a Teacher Education Program
By Dr. William Kerns
Today Bill takes a turn at the blog and talks about reading aloud and encouraging a love of reading
Last week this blog featured pictures highlighting the International Literacy Day Intergenerational Read-In that took place September 6 at Harris-Stowe State University. This activity was organized by my friend and colleague, Betty Porter Walls, who is an associate professor in the College of Education. Volunteers were encouraged to bring a favorite book to read aloud to preschool children. Books were also available for section on the occasion. This is one of multiple activities in which we in the College of Education encourage reading aloud with children. Other activities include service learning in the community. I am honored to participate. In this week’s blog entry, I will briefly reflect on strategies for reading aloud as well as the importance of reading aloud.
Choice in readings is so important. If you are a K-12 teacher or teacher-educator, I strongly recommend researching available books that work well in read aloud activities (Trelease, 2013). Additionally, I recommend collaborating with local authors who take care to produce and seek out books that avoid far too common cultural stereotypes that are contained in books that purport to promote an appreciation for diversity but fail to accurately or sensitively reflect a cultural group (Nieto, 1996; Reese, 1999).
We are fortunate in the College of Education to be able to work with community organizations such as the St. Louis Black Authors of Children’s Literature Initiative. Members of this group routinely participate in read aloud activities while providing books to read that are sensitive to the needs and interests of African-American children. This is so critical given a long lamented scarcity of children’s books that give voice to people of diverse backgrounds (Tunnel & Jacobs, 2008), including books that portray the history of a group and that portray the current lived experiences of members of a cultural group (Yokota, 1999).
Keys to reading aloud with children include conversation that draws upon and builds background knowledge. This dialogue might include strategically thinking aloud about contents of the text (Ness, 2018), prompts and questions that but also fun, engaging stories and songs. Let children have fun with the book or the story. Let reading be playful, because after all, play is the work of the child. During read-aloud activities, teachers (and peers) can model strategies for reading increasingly challenging content in texts. Reading aloud can include the explicit modeling of reading strategies, the teaching of vocabulary, reviewing of text structure (van Kleeck, Stahl, & Bauer, 2003), while asking guided questions that prompt students toward predictions and analytical thinking (McGee & Schickedanz, 2007; Reutzel & Cooter, 2008).
However, there is a mistake that I have too often observed. Sometimes adult readers will focus on the strategies while children are bored. I wish to stress the importance of helping children love books and love reading. If we focus on strategies but children hate reading, we have failed in the read aloud.
The varied language arts skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing) should be honored. This happens when the teacher (or other adult) who is reading aloud prompts children to use make meaning of a text through cues that involve viewing, listening, and reading, and to communicate through opportunities to speak and write. Movement can help a child to engage in reading. So, allow children the opportunity to sway with the wind if that’s part of a story. Or to stand like a tree. Encourage students to roar like a lion. Suddenly students are having fun while enjoying the text. Reading aloud doesn’t need to be teacher-centered, remember, it can be student-centered, with the children prompted to actively participate.
My areas of specialization are Secondary English Language Arts as well as literacy. I view reading aloud as a key topic for secondary language arts and literacy, not just early literacy (Coyne et al., 2009). Reading aloud exposes children to literary skills and contributes to a child’s achievement in literacy and the language arts (Farrant & Zubrick, 2012; Swanson et al., 2011). Reading aloud doesn’t need to stop in the primary years through the strategies should change given different ways that young children learn compared with adolescents. Young adult novels, short-stories, and varied texts from diverse cultures offer rich opportunities for reading aloud activities. Language arts and literacy activities should continue to be engaging and active in high school.
An effective language arts or literacy teacher is an active participant in the classroom and a skilled observer of the learning process. I want to see students engaged in literacy and language arts activities that are engaging, inspiring, and that help them to stretch their skills and abilities. Notice a phrase that I did not use: “best practices”. This phrase means many things to many people. Often it is imbued with echoes of the debates sparked by the National Reading Panel and phrases such as “gold standard of scientific research” which tends to mean the medical model of research, with randomized participants and control groups. “Best practices” means something different to a social-constructivist than to a behaviorist. I am, unapologetically, of course, a social-constructivist. Progress in learning should be regularly assessed (before, during and after activities) using both formal and informal means. Reading aloud and participating in dialogue with children helps to build literacy skills, including fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
Coyne, M. D., Zipoli, R. P., Chard, D. J., Faggella-Luby, M., Ruby, M., Santoro, L. E., et al. (2009). Direct instruction of comprehension: Instructional examples from intervention
research on listening and reading comprehension. Reading and Writing Quarterly, 25, 221–245.
Farrant, B.M., & Zubrick, S.R. (2012). Early vocabulary development: The importance of joint attention and parentchild book reading. First Language, 32(3), 343–364.
McGee, L. M., & Schickedanz, J. A. (2007). Repeated interactive read-alouds in preschool and kindergarten. The Reading Teacher, 60, 742-751.
Ness, M.K. (2018). Think big with think-alouds, grades K-5: A three step planning process that develops strategic readers. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Nieto, S. (1996). Affirming diversity. White Plains, New York: Longman.
Reese, D. (1999). Authenticity & sensitivity: Goals for writing and reviewing books with Native American themes. School Library Journal, 45(11), 36-37
Reutzel, D. R. , & Cooter, R. B. (2008). Teaching children to read: The teacher makes the difference. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education.
Swanson, E., Vaughn, S., Wanzek, J., Petscher, Y., Heckert, J., Cavanaugh, C., Kraft, G., & Tackett, K. (2011). A synthesis of read-aloud interventions on early reading outcomes among preschool through third graders at risk for reading difficulties. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 44(3), 258–275.
Trelease, J. (2013). The read-aloud handbook (7th Ed.). New York, NY: Penguin Random House.
Tunnel, M. O., & Jacobs, J. S. (2008). Children’s literature briefly. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Merrill Prentice Hall.
van Kleeck, A., Stahl, S. A., & Bauer, E. B. (Eds.). (2003). On reading books to children: Parents and teachers. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Yokota, J. (1999). Japanese and Japanese Americans: Portrayals in recent children’s books. Book Links, 8(3), 41-53