Literature and Read Alouds: Let’s Reflect!

The readings and assignments in the “Literature and Read Alouds” module were very eye-opening and informative at the same time. What may seem like a simple reading to children can really be a great way to engage students and make them actually enjoy the learning process. That is key in my opinion. If we as teachers do not make learning fun, then as soon as our students graduate (if they make it that far), they will happily neglect things like reading and writing for pleasure and say things like “I hate school” or “school is boring and miserable.”

So what exactly makes up a read-aloud? A read aloud needs to be effective to work though, so what makes a good one? We will dive in to these topics and more and make the connection between read alouds and literature skills.

Essentially, read alouds should be interactive and children should feel like they have a voice. Children can voice their opinions or make comments/questions and use their imagination and creativity during read alouds. As many researched have discovered too, read alouds open up students to the possibility that reading can be a joyful, entertaining, “edge of your seat,” exciting experience. It does not have to be dull. Plus, something that was emphasized in the articles was that students should be allowed and actually encouraged to choose books to read that they find relevant and interesting. When reading to the class, too, during a read aloud, the book or novel should not only be age appropriate, socially and emotionally suitable, etc. but also, for simplicity’s sake, let’s just say fun and entertaining! Read alouds should be lively! Many times teachers will actually have their students gather in the front of the room in a circle to read a text together and get talking. This can also be beneficial in building and establishing a strong “community of learners.”

Although there were several components to effective read alouds as discussed in the article,”Effective Read-Alouds: Is There a Common Set of Implementation Practices?” a few aspects of read alouds stand right out. The first one is the fact that read alouds include books that “are clearly selected based on the interests and needs of the students in the class.” For example, a class with many refugee students would not probably relate or benefit as much from a book about making apple pie on Thanksgiving. Instead, they might read a book that could generally relate to most students in the class (refugee or not) about overcoming a scary time or an obstacle in life. This would be far more relatable, relevant, and wise to incorporate for a read aloud in this particular classroom (for example).

Going into a second key component to this article was the fact that a clear purpose for the read aloud should be “set in stone” or just mapped out for the benefit of everyone involved. There should be a goal or objective(s) to be focused on. With teaching, it is important to be organized and although you can never predict exactly what will happen or what students will say, you, as the teacher, must guide your students in the learning process.

Another key component to the read alouds was the incorporation of animation, fluency, and expression. In classrooms where the teacher’s voices were packed full of expression and emotion, the students were “engrossed” in the books during the read-alouds. In this way, then, students gain an appreciation for books and literature and will be more motivated to learn through text or just simply pick up a book and read for pleasure. Either way, both will surely benefit them in the long run.

Lastly, in effective read alouds, the teachers and students would discuss the text and then move into independent reading and writing. Something the article stressed that I could relate to because it sparked up a memory for me was that our read alouds should segway into other topics when they end. The article gave an example where the teacher had ran out of time and needed to move onto the math subject, for example. This abrupt ending is not effective teaching, and, plus, read alouds should “never be an isolated event.” Read alouds provides so many benefits, but what goes on with the children/students after the read-aloud/story is what truly makes a great difference.

I can recall in my time as a Jumpstart member and now, as a Jumpstart Team Leader, read-alouds in the classroom (which, by the way, are not just beneficial for small children in preschool or kindergarten-the sixth grade). They can even be beneficial for middle and high school students too! Although read alouds will look different for different groups of students, (ie. preschoolers may go over what an illustrator is and what an author is as well as the spine of the book, back of the book, front of the book, etc.), they are super helpful. Interactive read alouds are great as they allow and encourage students to share their feelings, connections, emotions, thoughts, etc. with the rest of the class. Ideas build and thoughts blossom. Students grow as problem solvers and critical thinkers as well. Read alouds should almost even “blur the distinction” between reality and the story/text or “the story world and the children’s world.” The author of one of the articles calls this “super transposed- or one world being transparent over the other.” Another reason why this would be beneficial for children besides being enjoyable is because they can realize how to cope (in a healthful way) through reading and literature. They can escape daily stressors with a good book instead of turning to unhealthy, dangerous, and self-destructive forms of coping mechanisms.

Now, because one of the main purposes of read alouds is to model good expression and fluency when reading, a commonality between the articles presented in the fifth module was that teachers must be well prepared and enthusiastic about what they are reading and (on a bigger scale) what they are teaching. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that someone who is reading in a monotone, expressionless voice would be boring and almost painful to listen to. And, as I mentioned, although you can not ever predict exactly what students will do or say or react to, it’s almost guaranteed that they will be extremely interested in your reading if you do it with more and more excitement and enthusiasm.

Good literature skills are very closely and directly related to read alouds. First of all, read alouds model effective literature skills through the teacher and fellow classmates. In other words, the teacher shows how to read with prosody and fluency along with expression and the students can help model how to think about texts and literature including what types of questions to think about, what kind of connections you can make, etc.

Another key way in which literature skills are related to read alouds is that they help foster and grow these skills that will be needed for the rest of their lives. Literacy development is greatly impacted in a positive way as students can grow and expand their base of knowledge. If the teacher is reading about a zoo for example, even if the children have never been to an actual zoo, they will learn new vocabulary related to the content (such as zookeeper, exhibit, etc.). This will ultimately make reading (and reading more challenging texts especially) more manageable and they will be able to comprehend challenging texts more easily.

Going along with the previous point, too, is the fact that children will not only expand on the concepts they know, but also the vocabulary they know including transition words and phrases. And, as we have discussed, vocabulary knowledge is the number one predictor of later on academic achievement. If read alouds can build our students’ vocabulary base, shouldn’t we incorporate them many many times throughout the year? I certainly think we should!

Without a doubt, there are several benefits to read alouds and they are super helpful when it comes to literacy skills/development. As a teacher, I will definitely implement them with my future students. In fact, in one of my other classes this semester, we are talking about how to develop reading prosody and voice, and I certainly think I will bring in these articles and show them to my classmates and/or professor. Essentially, read alouds can be the stepping stones to more complicated and advanced texts that our students need to be exposed to in order to improve their literature skills significantly. Why not implement them? There is really nothing to lose.

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