“If we are always reading aloud something that is more difficult than children can read themselves then when they come to that book later, or books like that, they will be able to read them – which is why even a fifth grade teacher, even a tenth grade teacher, should still be reading to children aloud. There is always something that is too intractable for kids to read on their own.” – Mem Fox
In a recent Reading Horizons webinar, Author Sarah Collinge, discussed the importance of reading aloud to students of all reading levels and the impact this simple practice can have on increasing students’ reading levels. Regardless of how many times I learn that little things can make a difference, the impact of many simple practices never ceases to amaze me.
As the above quote points out: reading aloud is beneficial for students of all ages. During the webinar, Sarah discussed how this simple classroom practice builds students' reading levels by exposing students to texts above their current reading level, creating collaboration, and modeling fluent reading.
Exposure to Challenging Texts
As stated in the Common Core State Standards:
Children’s listening comprehension outpaces reading comprehension until the middle school years (CCSS, Appendix A, p. 27)
Because students have a higher level of listening comprehension than reading comprehension, reading aloud to students at a level slightly above their current level exposes them to texts that challenge their current reading ability. AND, because they have an adult guiding their conversations and answering questions, they can comprehend texts they would not comprehend on their own.
Sarah pointedly explained that classroom discussion is essential for making a classroom read aloud effective. If the teacher is not guiding discussion and providing the vocabulary and context necessary for students to understand texts that are above their independent reading level, reading aloud to students will not build their reading level.
Children benefit from structured conversations with an adult in response to written texts. (CCSS, Appendix A, p. 27)
To build collaboration surrounding classroom reading alouds, Sarah realized that students needed a guide to create the type of discussions that would benefit her students and help them better comprehend difficult texts. When she left them to themselves to discuss the text, she found they naturally pointed out obvious points. So, she thought about what type of discussions she wanted her students to have about the texts they were reading. She decided she wanted students to recognize when they had a thought or idea that was evoked by something they read, and then for them to be able to provide textual support for that idea. To help facilitate this type of discussion amongst her students she used an activity called “Turn and Talk.”
Turn and Talk required that after a passage was read aloud, she would say “Turn and Talk” and the students would discuss the passage that had just been read using the following discussion “stem:”
First student: “When the book said ________ I was thinking ________ because ________.
Partner: “I agree with you because ___________.” OR “I disagree with you because __________.”
After applying this strategy Sarah was amazed by the increased engagement level of her students with the text. She felt that using these discussion stems helped students think critically about the text and match the level of rigor required by the Common Core State Standards.
Modeling Fluent Reading
Having a teacher read aloud to students helps increase their reading level, because it models fluent reading for students. By following along and seeing how the teacher emphasizes different words, pauses at commas and periods, and pronounces difficult words, students can increase their own reading fluency.