I’m sure this is will be more than enough to think about for today. If you are just starting out, it may appear overwhelming at first. If so, please take a step back and remember we don’t have to master this all at one time or in one year. If you need to, look at the area that most applies to where you are as a literacy teacher. As long as we are taking steps to move ourselves forward, that’s what counts.
To me, interactive read alouds are a vital component to balanced literacy and totally necessary for readers and writers workshop. It’s like the dress rehearsal for reading work and language immersion and play for writing work. It takes the decoding and encoding work away from the learner so they can try and approximate skills that are important to their continued growth as a reader and writer. Because our classroom time is limited and extremely valuable, we need to be on top of our game especially with this work as this is often the time students are trying out new skills for the first time.
The following is a progression that I followed as I began this work with interactive read alouds. Use it as is, or tweak it to help set your goal. It’s a tool. Please remember that it is a progression and we work through it one step at a time. I’m going to talk about each section in a bit more depth to give a clearer understanding to help determine whether this is the goal that you are choosing to focus on. Within your work, you may not get to all of these parts in one school year. That’s okay as there are a lot of working parts to practice and fit together. Should you choose this area to be your goal, the hope is to start wherever you are on this continuum and build from there.
Choosing Books is essential. Our time is so limited and valuable in our classroom.Yes, we want books that students will enjoy, and we want books with some meat in them, so we can work with and discuss them. We also want to choose books of various genres and lengths to keep a variety in our reading lives. What is the purpose for your read aloud? Perhaps you are working on identifying character traits through character actions. Choose books that do that. By doing this, we are integrating our different components of literacy so with work with each other and not independent of each other. It’s working smarter, not harder.
Planning Think Alouds is the first step in opening the door to the invisible process of reading. We show our learners how we think successfully, and how we work through our comprehension struggles. Both are important to model. As I started this work, I’d share my thinking and forget to share my struggles. When working with my students, they were getting frustrated that they couldn’t get it as easily as me and internalized it to think they were a struggling reader. That changed the way I shared my thinking. I mixed it up, so they could see both, and know that they were both natural. Now the first word in this section, planning, is often one thing I didn’t do until I realized I was figuratively throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping it stuck. I started planning. I would choose the most powerful instances of the strategy I was teaching and preplan what I was going to say on Post-It notes. This allowed me to use my time wisely as I only brought forth what I thought were important moments to share without interrupting the flow of the text. I was able to read more books to my students, and my read aloud time would not go past the time I had planned for it which was usually about 15 minutes.
Adding and Integrating Turn & Talks was my next progression. My think alouds were the model, and this was the guided practice. I model a strategy one or two times and then have the learners try it. After all, if I’m doing most of the work, who is really learning? Using the character traits from action example from earlier, I may model noticing a character action and ask myself, “What does this tell me about this character?”, share my thought process, and continue reading. When we read about another character action I may stop and comment, “I just noticed this character’s action. I wonder what this tells me about this character and how I know this. Turn and talk with your partner.” This is, of course, dependent upon already having selected reading partnership for students, which will be a post for another time, as well has having the procedures set up and practiced of how to turn and talk. While students are turning and talking, I stand and walk amongst them listening to their attempts and approximations, coaching in when needed. I follow up with highlighting a few of the comments, so they are validated in know they are doing some good work.
Stop & Jots were my next step in expanding my read aloud repertoire. It is very similar to turn and talks, but releases the responsibility even further. I start stop & jots after learners have tried and are successful. Stop & jots are made on Post-It notes. Instead of turning and talking to respond to my prompt, the students write their response on the Post-It and put it in their folder or reading notebook. Sometimes I collect the responses to do a quick formative assessment to see who is really getting it, who is almost there, and who is struggling. This quick data dig allows me to create quick and easy small groups the following day. Of course, I need to add, I always look to see that students I work with have evidence to support their thinking. Stop and jots are important work, but not work that can be easily attempted without developmental appropriateness and having a good foundation in the previous steps. In the younger primary grades, I start this work by having students sketch how the character is feeling at the moment. In my work with read alouds, I have students turn and talk a lot more than stop & jot. We learn to talk before we write. For me, doing a stop & jot is a good way to assess students and have them practice what is going to happen in their independent reading.
Accountable Talk Circles are one of my most favorite things to do with students. After finishing a book, or after getting to a really suspenseful part, I have my students join in a circle to have a book discussion. They have to learn to talk about the book in a group without raising hands. A lot of social skills are involved including, adding on to ideas, disagreeing with ideas, asking for evidence etc. Here is an example video of accountable talk circles to help gain a better understanding. This is a student centered activity with strong teacher facilitation. It always surprises me to hear the depth that students go to when having these grand conversations. It is another chance to hear and evaluate where students are as readers and make groups accordingly. I tend to have a less obvious structure in my accountable talk circles. I generally pose a discussion point and let students talk. Some teachers have every student talk. My opinion is that some students are not talkers. They may be more introverted and have difficulty talking in groups. It’s too risky to try at first. With time, all of my students end up talking as I make sure our space is one to explore ideas free of judgment.
Writing Long is generally not something done too often in primary grades as students tend not to be there developmentally. I have successfully used it with second grade students, but their work and level of thought will not be the same as those in intermediate grades. Writing long, to me, has it’s beginnings with a similar relationshop to accountable talk circles as stop & jots has to turn & talks. We start with talking and move to writing as learners become more proficient. When starting long writes on books, I have held an accountable talk circle first and then asked students to go write everything they think and have learned about the text. By talking about it first, ideas are brought forth that some students may have forgotten, or some ideas may not have even been thought about. It also helps students focus on the process and not the content.
Bundling Books is the process of purposely selecting texts to read in read aloud that connect together within and across genres. It is planned to help students learn to make important, purposeful, and meaningful text-to text connections. Some connections will be obvious and some will be more abstract. What you choose depends on the students that you are currently working with. Some people I know may not agree with putting bundling books at the end of this progression on Interactive read alouds. That’s okay. We will eventually end up at the same place. I am suggesting putting book bundling as one of the last things we attempt with interactive read aloud for a few reasons. Firstly, learning to purposely choose books can be a daunting task in itself. Learning and becoming proficient in the skills needed in interactive read aloud and when to purposely plan and use them with your students is also a great deal of work and practice. To me, bundling books, takes everything else and adds the extra piece to go from good to great. I absolutely think it is a vital component of interactive read aloud as our students are expected to grow ideas across texts, but we need to build to this point.
This is a lot of information to process. By all means chunk and chew what is useful to you. Until next time, have a reading and writing -tastic week!