From the We Are Teachers blog
No one doubts the benefits of reading aloud to students. Walk into any elementary classroom, and you will find teachers reading to their kids.
By high school, however, this has usually stopped. Teenagers are expected to be responsible and take their learning into their own hands. This is, after all, ultimately the goal. We want to send out responsible, self-sufficient adults into the world.
I’m all for independence, but I still take the time to read aloud to my high school English classes. Here’s why.
1. It’s fun.
When you listen to great literature, you experience and absorb the book in a different way. This is why audiobooks and apps like Audible are so popular. I love reading the old-fashioned way of ink on paper, but I also enjoy a good audiobook on my commute to work or when working around the house. So if adults enjoy being read to, why shouldn’t students?
2. It allows students to truly hear the story.
When I’m reading to my students, they hear things like word pronunciation, dialect, and pacing. This is a good thing. As a child, I read constantly. I mispronounced words or names because I only heard them in my head. Then you have those light bulb moments later when you realize you’d read it or learned it wrong. For instance, how you pronounce the name Hermione from Harry Potter.
Dialect can also come out when you’re being read to, like when someone is reading Shakespeare or Huckleberry Finn. When reading Elie Wiesel’s book, Night, I read every section out loud to my students because I pause when Wiesel writes a sentence fragment that has underlying, often tragic meaning. I slow down my pace and give the words the attention they deserve. This forces students to slow down and think about the words. The other day after I finished the section where Elie’s father passes away, one student told me that the way I read made the scene even sadder.
3. I know that students are engaging with the material.
I work in a school where my students are often more worried about what they’re going to eat that night or if they’re going to have a place to sleep. For many kids, homework is the last thing on their mind when they leave school. When I read out loud, I know that my students are actually “reading” the material. They aren’t just finding a summary or looking up answers online.
4. Not all parents read to their kids.
This could be for a variety of reasons, like maybe they had to work or perhaps they can’t read themselves. Either way, children might have missed out on that valuable time. It may sound silly, but I have no doubt in my mind that my reading aloud to students can help them feel safe and loved. We teachers often have to take on more than just the educator role when it comes to our students, and this is one way we can do that.
5. It helps me be a better teacher.
When we read the book together, I am able to pause them all in the same spot at the same time to discuss some aspect of the book. Sometimes I might discuss vocabulary and we use context clues to figure out the meaning of the word. Other times I might pause them to infer what an author means, or why the author set up the story like they did.
By doing this, I am able to meet multiple Common Core ELA standards in one class period. I do still have them work on critical thinking questions on their own, and some students choose to do this while I am reading and others wait until we are done. Either way, I am able to have them work as a class and independently simultaneously.
For my students in a tiny, rural, high-poverty school, reading aloud works. Not only are kids reading outside of the classroom more, but they are also learning more from the books we read in class.
When my sophomores find out my freshmen are starting To Kill a Mockingbird, they talk about how much they liked the book. They don’t just tell me this, but they tell each other as well. Reading has changed from a negative experience to a positive one for my students, and, for me, that is how I measure success.
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