Reading Aloud is Awesome

Who doesn’t like being read to? Really. It’s a grand tradition that we humans hold dearly. Initially we did it orally, passing down stories to another generation of eager listeners, then we started recording stories. We are read to as toddlers and children, but it seems that at some point in our lives, it’s not acceptable anymore. It’s like we think it’s childish to be read to. Well, I think that is wrong.

When in university doing my Arts degree, I took an English course about the legends of King Arthur. The main text we studied was Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur”.  Well, it was written in Middle English, essentially a foreign language, and it was like learning to read again. Luckily we (the class) had an amazing professor to teach us how to read it.

First, the prof modelled for us the proper accent and annunciation, and provided us with commentary to give us a knowledge of the vocabulary and historical background.  When the class had to read, there was a sort of competition between classmates as to who could read best, added pressure to enunciate the words properly, and special attention being paid to the syntax in order to read more fluently.  Great lessons were learned in that classroom because classmates got to learn from one another, we did not have to strictly depend on our own understanding. I know for a fact that I got better at comprehending Middle English from just two classes of reading aloud than I would have just reading it on my own. Yes, there were times I was uncomfortable reading it out loud, but hard lessons aren’t easy. This is something I remembered when I did read alouds with my classes.

With my grade eight classes I recently did a novel study of “The Hobbit” by JRR Tolkien . It is a classic fantasy book that was written in the early 30’s, and it is a challenging read because of the vocabulary, syntax, and complex punctuation. Since there was only one class set of novels, my two classes had to share the books and could not take the books home to do assigned readings. This worked fine because the book was challenging, so I decided to start reading it to them.

I was surprised by how the students were totally engaged. All following along, paying attention to how I paused at commas, changing the intonation of my voice for things that were said in brackets, stopping to talk about things that intrigued me, and changing my voice to match the character’s mood, and so on.  Then some students (the stronger readers) would volunteer to read as well. As the unit went, I gradually made it a requirement for every student to read aloud at least one paragraph per reading session. At first, there were some nerves evident, but I just encouraged and told them how well they did, constantly reassuring them that this was a very hard text and that I also made mistake reading out loud. They had to learn to feel safe with reading out loud regardless of their performance.

As we progressed through the book, I literally got to hear the students improve in their oral reading skills. They were figuring out tough words, using the punctuation to help their fluency, learning about pacing and posture, and best of all, they became confident. One student, who at first stuttered as he read because he were so nervous, eventually was able to read smoothly and effectively. Credit to him for the mental toughness. He wasn’t forced, he wanted to do it.

I love reading aloud. I think a fair number of teachers still do it with their classes. If you don’t or haven’t, I highly suggest you do. I had read alouds with previous classes I taught, but this time was different. I think because I threw the students into the fire; I made them read out loud in class. Yup, some students were uncomfortable and didn’t do too well, but they got better and more confident. One might say they learned something. I think that’s what education is about…

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The New Learning: Authentic Information Experiences

Student engagement has been a hot topic in education recently. It appears that an increasing number of students are not active participants in their learning despite new technologies, teaching methods, and the best efforts of educators. It is my opinion that students are not as engaged because they are not getting authentic information experiences.

I define an authentic information experience as: an experience whereby an individual or group is actively engaged in collecting, creating, and sharing information – photos, video, text, or ideas – in a real world context. These experiences happen when people instrinsically want to learn and create something; not because they’re being told to, because they want to.

I believe the youth of today are learning in two worlds.

In one world, youth have dynamic and engrossing information experiences. They exchange, create, and publish information with just a tablet or smarthphone and an Internet connection.   With these tools they can:

  • find out an answer to almost any question through a Google search
  • learn almost any skill from YouTube
  • create a viral meme in a matter of minutes
  • share thoughts and experiences through Twitter and Instagram
  • find joy in random stuff on Tumblr
  • critical think and problem-solve in video games

In the other world, youth are told what to learn, how to learn it, and why they ought to.

I am not against curriculum, or teaching in traditional ways, but times have changed. Information is ridiculously abundant and the youth of today want it more than ever before. They don’t just want to take it in, they want to help create and share it! If educators want their students to be engaged, the students need to be made an important part of the process, not just the recipients of information.

I’ll use a quote from David Warlick’s article entitled Information Ethics that I think articulates the “two worlds” idea that I was describing.

Preparing children for an information-driven, technology-rich future requires us to redefine literacy in a way that reflects the changing nature of information. You and I were taught to read what some body handed to us. Our students will read from a global digital library that anyone can publish to, just about anything they want, and for just about any reason.

The bottom line is that participating in an informatoin experience is learning. Students are yearning to share their experiences on a grander scale. I like to use technology and social media to provide my classroom, not only a window to the real world, but a communication line where ideas can be shared, heard, viewed, and discussed. This is the way I’ve chosen to engage students. How will you?