In my last resource I advocated the return to modelling reading for our students by reading to them:

Reading a text is about reading the text. It’s about what reading looks and sounds like; what
is in the text. Our students need to know what reading looks and sounds like. To do this, they need to hear others read.

Primary Learning Resource 4/9/2019

Reading to students is more widely known as ‘read-aloud’.

Background

Reading to an audience has a pretty long history. We’ve only had universal education for the last hundred years or so, and books and learning were traditionally in the hands of the wealthy or the church. If written or printed information was to be shared, it had to be read aloud.

In the classroom, reading by the teacher used to provide access to the literature and information that was not easily available. Books were expensive and lack of protections for workers or ‘safety nets’ for families meant that there were always other priorities.

These conditions still apply in some communities and in many countries.

In today’s classrooms we have focused on defining the elements of reading, and are narrowing the parameters of engaging with text to specific outcomes which are required to be visible in all activities.

Our bullet train of learning hurtles towards measurable achievements and the constant collection of data. Reading aloud by a teacher often doesn’t even take a back seat in our high stakes classroom vehicle – there is no time.

We have let the charabanc of reading for pleasure go; the sheet joy of immersing ourselves in a well-crafted yarn has no obvious place in our classrooms.

But this is more than just reading for the pleasure of it. Reading aloud provides opportunity for focused attention on vocabulary, sophisticated concepts, social issues and wide experiences. It is one way to show our students that reading is good for them. (Lowe 2016 p.30).

Jim Trelease, in The Read-Aloud Handbook, describes the ‘rich intellectual history’ of reading to both children and adults (2013 p. 11-12). He cites OECD research (p.10) indicating a powerful correlation between students’ results on the PISA scores at age 15 and having been read to in ‘the first grade’ (OECD 2010).

Open book in front of a rustic white wall

Value of reading aloud – more than reading for pleasure

Reading aloud is a demonstration of skilled reading, and what engagement with a text looks like – that is, solving problems and thinking deeply.

Basically, through modelling, read aloud-teaches the how of interacting with a text and
the why of making meaning from texts.
Read-aloud increases receptive and expressive vocabulary, improves fluency, strengthens comprehension and increases motivation to read …

Burkins & Yaris 2015 p. 34

When we read to our students, we provide the context to give exposure to, and encourage the use of, targeted vocabulary and comprehension, without students having the ‘brake’ of decoding and navigating the text for themselves. Purposeful and targeted instruction gives students practice in the use of skills they can then bring to their own reading as it develops through our teaching.

‘Instructional Read Alouds’ is one way to provide targeted teaching, described by Ambrose, Gosforth and Collins (2015). The process allows for students to interact with and think about vocabulary presented in context together with story content. It is based on vocabulary work by McKeown and Beck (2003 see reference below).

Texts

Text selection is critical to the success of reading to students. If students are not used to being read to, start with short pieces. In junior grades these can include rhymes and stories with repetition, cumulative structures and familiar contexts, to encourage accurate prediction and joining in.

We can use short powerful poems that can be put on display for students to read later for themselves. A poem such as Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s The Eagle (at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45322/the-eagle-56d224c9a41d1) includes strong imagery and use of a range of literary devices.

Use excerpts from longer works, like the first page of Ted Hughes’ ‘The Iron Man’ –

The Iron Man came to the top of the cliff.
How far had he come? Nobody knows. Where had he come from? Nobody knows. How was he made? Nobody knows.
Taller than a house, the Iron Man stood at the top of the cliff, on the very brink, in the darkness.
The wind sang through his iron fingers.

Hughes (1968) p.13

Use of repetition, imagery, personification and interesting vocabulary (‘on the very brink’) makes it worthy of listening to, dramatic reading, making connections to experience, anticipating events, and repeating for its own sake.

Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’ can be learned by heart, for ‘performance’. ‘Carroll’s Alice says of ‘Jabberwocky’: “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don’t exactly know what they are!” at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/42916/jabberwocky

Our students can also have the experience of having their heads filled with ideas, and not quite knowing what they are.

Detailed information regarding text complexity is in the Literacy Learning Progression Appendix 6 at https://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/media/3629/literacy-appendix-6.pdf. This is designed as a guide for your students’ own reading progress, but can also provide support as you choose texts to read.

Listening

Mock Up white Book on a wooden tabletop, next is a mini house with a bicycle. Concept on the topic of education

What to do about children who don’t seem to be able to sit (or slouch, or perch, or lie about) and listen?

The issue is probably unfamiliarity with how to do it. Unless children have extensive experience of being read to, they don’t know how to attend to a text. Often the only reading that students hear in the classroom is that done by other students; so the models are halting, the reading is repetitive, and the process can largely be ignored until it is their ‘turn’.

If students haven’t been read to at home, then the need for our reading aloud in the classroom is compounded. We must share quality, engaging texts, to explore the extended vocabulary of literature and the classroom, and for children to learn that there is more to reading than graded readers or the popular cartoonish ‘page-turners’ that fill bookshop shelves.

Listening skills are most clearly articulated in the ACARA National Literacy Learning Progression, the sub-element of listening in the Element of Speaking and Listening. A specific program for students’ listening can be developed and implemented early in Term 1, ready for the rest of the school year.

It takes time, careful thought and great texts, to build a culture of listening with your students.

Current Research

Interesting findings are in a UK study on Teacher knowledge of children’s literature and other texts, Research Rich Pedagogies at https://researchrichpedagogies.org/research/theme/teachers-knowledge-of-childrens-literature-and-other-texts

Dr Alyson Simpson from the University of Sydney and Dr Jennifer Rennie, Monash University, Acting President ALEA, are conducting a parallel survey of Australian teachers. Please open the link below, and scroll down to Teachers: let your voice be heard to participate. Share with others, too. The information will be valuable for ongoing research and understandings. Further information is available through PETAA and ALEA.

References

ACARA (2018) National Literacy Learning Progression at https://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/resources/national-literacy-and-numeracy-learning-progressions/national-literacy-learning-progression/speaking-and-listening/?subElementId=50559&scaleId=50736 accessed 08/09/2019

Ambrose, L., Gosforth, A. & Collins G. (2015) Using Instructional Read Alouds to enhance vocabulary development in Practical Literacy Vol 20 No 3 October 2015, pages 50-52

Lowe, K. (2016) For the Love of Reading: Supporting struggling readers Newtown: PETAA

Burkins, J. & Yaris, K. (2016) Who’s doing the work? : how to say less so your readers can do more Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers

Hughes, T. (1968) The Iron Man. A Story in Five Nights London: Faber & Faber

Trelease, J. (2013) The Read-Aloud Handbook 7th Ed USA: Penguin (including O.E.C.D. PISA 2009 Results: Overcoming Social Background: Equity in Learning Opportunities and Outcomes, Vol. II (2010), p. 95, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264091504-en)