As I walk through the halls of our school, I can feel the buzz of excitement over the upcoming holidays. Teachers, students, and parents are all looking forward to a much needed break! All of this excitement can bring with it off-task behaviors from our students and frayed nerves and a lack of patience from busy teachers and parents. Let’s face it . . . it is the “most wonderful” and STRESSFUL time of the year. Teachers also start to worry that the year is half way over and the TEST is looming nearer. It might be tempting to keep the students quiet and in their seats with packets of test prep reading materials. Just say, “NO!” Keep your students engaged and learning with great interactive read-alouds!
The research supporting reading aloud as the most important part of a balanced literacy program is staggering and definitive. I’m currently reading In Defense of Read-Aloud by Steven Layne. He uses the first chapter of this book to highlight copious amounts of research supporting the benefits of daily read-alouds in all classrooms K-12. Layne quotes Becoming a Nation of Readers, “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” Fountas and Pinnell discuss the many benefits of the interactive read-aloud in The Continuum of Literacy Learning:
The interactive read-aloud must be a cornerstone to every literacy teacher’s classroom!
Lucy Calkins stresses in her Guide To The Reading Workshop that students need teachers to read aloud to them and even refers to the read-aloud as the heart of the Reading Workshop. She quotes Cynthia Rylant. “Read to them,” Cynthia Rylant says. “Take their breath away. Read with the same feeling in your throat as when you first see the ocean after driving hours and hours to get there. Close the final page of the book with the same reverence you feel when you kiss your sleeping child at night. Be quiet. Don’t talk the experience to death. Shut up and let those kids think and feel. Teach your children to be moved.” To me, this gets to the heart of making your read-aloud interactive- “let those kids think and feel.” Bring your students to the floor and engage their hearts and minds!
Calkins also provides a quote reminding us that “although reading a story to children is not a difficult task for a literate adult, taking advantage of the read-aloud experience to develop children’s literacy is complex and demanding. For the read-aloud to help student develop deep comprehension skills, it is important that it provide teachers with an occasion for modeling think-alouds and prompting for and then extending rich conversation.” We know that a truly effective interactive read-aloud must be planned. Callum did an excellent job of explaining the planning of an interactive read-aloud in one of his earlier blogs, Thinking About Interactive Read Aloud Goals. He shared his progression through the process and the goals that he set for himself. Planning always remains essential to an effective read-aloud. Even if you’re sharing one of your favorite read-alouds with your class for the thirteenth year in a row, you need to plan out your questioning and sticky note your book. The Continuum of Literacy Learning provides grade level specific teaching point suggestions for making your interactive read-aloud effective. The Prompting Guides created by Fountas and Pinnell can provide you with conversation provoking questions that are genre specific. I consider these books essential when I’m planning my read-aloud. We often ask our students, “What is the setting of the story?” The Prompting Guide led me to ask, “How does the setting of the story effect the characters’ actions?” This resource raises the level of my questioning and leads to a richer conversation between the students.
I want to focus on the “interactive” part of the read-aloud. That is what will always keep our students engaged, especially at this distracting time of the year. Sometimes we get stuck in a rut of asking the students to share their thoughts in the same way every time we engage them in an interactive read-aloud. We forget that there are more ways to respond to an interactive read-aloud than just to “turn and talk.” Lucy Calkins gives many suggestions for making your read-alouds more interactive.
When you plan, think about the various ways that you can engage the students in responding to the text. Silent thinking is introspective and can be a much needed step in allowing students to gather their thoughts before engaging in the more social aspect of turning and talking. You might want to give more specific prompts like “Turn and talk about what you think might happen next.” You might say, “Stop and retell what has happened so far in our story.” Once again, the F & P Prompting Guides can give specific questioning prompts for deeper partner conversation. Gestures can also provide introspective responses. Go beyond a thumbs up and thumbs down. Ask students to put their hands on their heads or their hearts depending on whether they think that a characters’ actions are more heartfelt or thoughtful. They can then turn and explain their reasoning to their partner. Have students show on their faces how the character is feeling. Partners can act out missing dialogue that they think could take place between two characters after a major event in the story or “between” pages in the book. Stopping to sketch or jot a thought can give the students a moment to quickly capture a thought that they may add to later on as a turn and talk. This might also provide them with a prompt for writing long about their thoughts after the read-aloud. It is important to provide students with the tools that they need to engage in a conversation. Depending on your group of students, you might need to start with the body language of conversation and then teach the talking stems that they can use to make a conversation meaningful.
Mix it up and combine all of these different ways of responding to text in order to maximize engagement. Remember to let the text guide you. Plan your read-aloud experience to match the text. Don’t forget Cynthia Rylant’s advice to not “talk the experience to death.” The teacher thinking aloud is an important teachable moment, but the students should be engaged in rich conversation the bulk of your time together. Make your interactive read-aloud the collective experience that cements your classroom into a community of readers. Create a classroom environment that encourages learners to take risks and dare greatly by laughing, crying, and traveling together through the wonderful world of literature!