Since my college methods class to now, the general feeling about student read-alouds in the classroom has been an emphatic “NO.” The reasons made sense. One, students reading aloud comprehend less of the content. Two, students who are not fluent readers can be embarrassed and ridiculed. Three, students who are not reading aloud tend not to focus on the material, especially if the teacher is following a predictable pattern of “who goes next.”
So that was that. With the exception of reading Shakespeare aloud, I avoided read-alouds. I read aloud often so students could hear the cadence of the words from a good reader.
Listening to Teach Like A Champion 2.0 challenged my beliefs.
When Lemov first broached the subject of read-alouds, I nearly tuned him out (I listen to the book on my iphone while exercising.) The concept died twenty years ago. I couldn’t believe this guy was actually dedicating part of his book to this, especially after many of the brilliant ideas he’d given me so far.
I kept an open mind and listened on.
Read-alouds can help teacher assess student fluency. Teachers can make a quick correction to mispronunciations or poor attention to the punctuation of a passage. Teachers can also ask students who read well to reread a sentence, pointing out to students the highlights of that student’s reading.
“But what about student comprehension?” I thought. “And suffering through the poor readings? Those don’t benefit anyone and slows the pace.”
Lemov answered my concerns. One, this activity doesn’t need to be a long one. Perhaps for the first few minutes of a reading, especially a particularly difficult one. This was a good point. How many students struggle with reading poetry–Beowulf and Shakespeare and Chaucer, particularly, in my classroom. This was something I should do to reinforce the appropriate pauses at punctuation and to make the reading more fluent for students–thus improving comprehension.
But will they pay attention? The key is to change readers often, and more importantly, be unpredictable about when to change and who reads next. Don’t change at the end of a paragraph or the end of a stanza. Change at the end of a sentence in the middle of a paragraph. Then cold call a new student–(perhaps use a random draw for this if you have names on popsicle sticks or an iPad app that randomly selects student names). Students are more likely to pay attention.
What about the struggling readers? Again, keep it short. By being unpredictable about the lengths of student reading, a teacher can end their reading after a couple of sentences. If you have students who get very nervous about reading, you can approach them before class, ensure them they will only read two sentences (no one else need know this secret), so that student can mentally prepare. If the pacing seems to have slowed after a struggling reader, then choose a more capable one next, or read the next section yourself to get the class back into the rhythm.
I also like the idea of the teacher being the first reader. This establishes the tone, the mood, and the expression of the piece. It provides students with a model of what their readings should sound like.
This year I’ll be using more read-alouds. Not super-often, and not for a long time, but for key soliloquies or starting a text. Keeping it short–5-8 minutes–is another key for my high school students. After that point, I can also offer students the option of continuing the read aloud with me in a small group off to the side of my classroom, allowing those students who want to forge ahead independently to do so.