As a ten-year veteran elementary classroom teacher, I had my fair share of using different curricula and methodologies to teach reading, specifically during read aloud instruction. Over the years, I have come to realize that the most fruitful approach for read aloud time is to establish a set of texts at a local level. By having control over literature, teachers and schools can enhance language and understanding across curricula, and texts can be chosen that act as windows and mirrors of students’ cultural identities.
In my first years of teaching, my school implemented a big box, catch-all curriculum which provided read aloud books. As a way to build vocabulary, comprehension, and understanding of story elements, teachers would read the same story every day for a week. Although this method had many positive effects on students, I often noticed that learning through the prescribed text was disconnected from themes we were delving into in math, social studies, and science. For example, we would spend a week reading a fiction book about geese, yet we were learning about trees in science.
By using a balanced literacy approach, which highlights read aloud books selected at a local level, districts and teachers are able to best match books to themes and standards that reach beyond the literacy component. For example, when covering a farm unit in science and social studies, my grade level team and I were able to gather rich fiction and nonfiction literature, poems, and songs for read aloud time that aligned with our farm unit. We still covered the necessary literacy standards but gave our students the much-needed opportunity to engage and interact with the topic at a deeper level. This played a huge impact on all my student’s vocabulary and understanding of content and was especially vital for my English language learners whose language skills skyrocketed from the focused cross-curriculum approach.
Having control over read aloud books is also key for making sure texts act as windows into other cultures and mirrors enabling students to see themselves within the characters and context of the literature. “If the student is understood as occupying a dwelling of self, education needs to enable students to look through window frames in order to see the realities of others and mirrors in order to see his/her own reality reflected.” (Style, E. 1996, Curriculum as Windows and Mirror). Teachers must be mindful of book selections and carefully assess their classroom library to ensure there is a wide variety of cultures and identities being displayed. It is vital to ensure books meaningfully display diverse cultures and stereotypes are avoided. Having a plethora of protagonists in the stories gives students a chance to identify themselves or better understand others. For example, as I started working toward building a more equitable and inclusive classroom library, I worked hard to find books that featured heroines as my collection of books largely showcased males as the dominant character. I gathered literature that displayed my student’s diverse cultures in respectful and meaningful ways. Identifying a large and diverse author base is key. My students loved when I read books that featured the text in both English and their native language. Allowing teachers the autonomy to pick read aloud literature in place of using a one-size-fits-all approach gives students the developmental necessity of self-identification and infuses students with a desire to better understand others.
Teaching For Tolerance is a great resource to learn more, and teachers can use the link provided to assess their own classroom libraries and read aloud text.
I would love to hear about your experience with choosing read aloud texts. Please feel free to share your thoughts below.