Thursday, April 26, 2012

Reading Aloud to Children: What I Have Learned

Several years ago, I started doing classroom read alouds.  Those of you who are teachers or librarians might be asking what is so special about that?!  We do it all the time you might say.  However, as a principal, it was easy to think that I didn't have time to go into a class and read aloud on a regular basis.  Yet, three years ago, I asked two teachers if I could come into their classrooms and read to their students weekly. At that point I couldn't tell you why I picked the books that I did or even what I hoped to get from the experience or what I expected children to come away with.  I just had this sense that I needed to read to them.  What I discovered about reading aloud is changing me as an educator and instructional leader.

Here are 5 things that I have discovered while reading aloud to children:


Reading aloud to children builds relationships. - When I go in 1 or 2 times a week to read with a class, I get to know the names of the children, and their personalities.  I have become a part of their learning community, and the books provide us with a shared history.  Even a year later, I can hold up the sequel of a book I read the previous year and we can all celebrate together.  We develop a common language and references from the books that we read with one another, and I have credibility when asking about other books they are reading.  I cherish the relationships I have built with my students from the time we have spent exploring books.


Reading aloud to children helps me identify student strengths and areas of need. - I have learned more about children's learning styles and abilities from reading aloud to them than I have in almost any other activity.  I have had children surprise me with these incredibly insightful comments when I had mistakenly thought they weren't "getting it".  I have sat in teacher - parent conferences and been able to speak often with incredible accuracy about a child based on the observations I have made when reading aloud.  I have also been able to advocate for services for children based on what I have learned as well.  One of the unexpected benefits of reading aloud or leading a Literacy Café for a class is that I can also identify gaps in learning.  This year I discovered while doing a Literacy Café on the Harlem Renaissance that some of our upper grade classes were struggling with timelines.  This enabled me to have a conversation about number lines and the gaps students had in math which were showing up in other areas.     
   

Reading aloud to children allows me an opportunity to expose them to new book titles. - Though I might love Sarah, Plain & Tall or Charlotte's Web, teachers and children need to be exposed to new titles and more diversity in the types of books that they are exposed to.  Whether it is a collection of books from the same historical time period, a new adventure novel, or some amazing character that they must meet, read alouds help me to introduce children to books that they would otherwise never find.
 

Reading aloud to children gave me a way to build a culture of reading at the school. - My students know that I value books and reading.  The parents know that I value books and reading.  My staff know that I value books and reading.  And as a result, my students are slowly developing a love for books and reading too.  They are beginning to recognize titles and authors.  Students will stop by my office to see what books I might have for them. They are now checking in with our part-time library tech to look for a title that I mentioned.  We may not have arrived yet, but we are certainly on the right path.


Reading aloud to children provides me with an opportunity to model for teachers how to create a passion for reading and learning with their students. - Whether it is through reading aloud, or during a Literacy Café, I have had opportunities to demonstrate new or different ways for celebrating books.  When I spend time reading or teaching in a classroom, I have to practice what I "preach".  If I expect teachers to make reading or learning relevant, then I must demonstrate it too.

As I share these observations, I want to remind everyone that I am still on the path to learning.  If I were to write this post in another year, I know I would have new observations or examples to share. I would also love to learn about the discoveries that you have made while reading aloud to children.      

18 comments:

  1. really incredible post, aly, and i agree with everything you've said. i have been reading to a child once a week for the past couple of years and have noticed all of these things. i can tell, even from last year to this year, that my child has really improved in his reading and comprehension. he's much more enthusiastic than he was the first year and i think he enjoys the time that we spend together. i also like encouraging in him the idea that reading is cool and exciting.

    good for you for taking the time out of your schedule to read to your students. we all have busy lives but even a small amount of time can make a huge difference.

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    1. thuy - Thank you for reading with a child weekly. Volunteers like you are very valuable. Glad you liked the post.

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  2. This is so beautifully stated. Your observations about reading and imparting the love of reading to children are so true. Thank you for writing this. It is much appreciated.

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    1. Barbara - Thanks for commenting. I am hoping it will inspire other administrators to read aloud too.

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  3. This is an amazing post! Your comment "and I have credibility when asking about other books they are reading." is very striking. I facilitate reading workshops for children in India and one of the major problems I see here is that people(parents,teachers,admin,etc)comment on the children's reading just because they are older and not because they feel there are other books and titles that the kids might enjoy too.

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    1. Kruti - Just because I am an adult, doesn't mean I know what children should read. But when I know my students and I know books, I can recommend books from a place of knowing the right book for each child. Thanks for commenting and good luck with your workshops.

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  4. I've said it before, but I'll say it again...you are an exceptional principal, one who puts student learning at the CENTER of all you do. Thank you for your inspirational post!

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. Hope the post inspires others to read with children.

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  5. Thanks Alyson for taking me on this path with my students. I find that after 11 years of teaching I am still on the path of discovering, learning, and transforming myself, my thinking, and my instruction. I believe it is because of such transformations that I continue to be a teacher and really a student as well.

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    1. Debbie - You are truly one of the most inspiring teachers that I know and I am glad that we have had the chance to work together. ((hugs))

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  6. What a great article! I wish more administrators would take the time to read aloud to to their students. I know that they have increasingly hectic schedules, but some is better than none. Building relationships with students will help the students to know the administrators and better and it will help the students to know the administrators better.These relationships will be helpful when other events in the school setting come up and need to be resolved.

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    1. Barbara - Some of my favorite moments in the week are when I get to read with children. Even if my day is super crazy, there is something relaxing and restorative about reading with them. And yes, knowing your students helps out in many different situations.

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  7. What a fabulous post! The best argument for reading aloud that I've read. Wonderfully stated.

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    1. Hannah Lily - Thanks for commenting...I am excited that this post has touched so many.

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  8. Brilliant and beautiful and perfectly perfect!! What a fine, fine school with fine, fine students and teachers and a fine, fine, principal, too! xx

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    1. Sharon - Awww! I can't wait to tell my students that one of our favorite authors stopped by and commented on my blog post. Thank you so much for reading the post and commenting. My fine, fine students & I find you to be a fine, fine author! :-)

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  9. As a teacher who travels all over the city working in many different schools, and as a person who also loves books and reading, I have to say I really enjoy the "book culture" at your school! I like it when a school is "about" something. Some places focus on arts or performing or something else, and your school is about BOOKS! It is always exciting when an author is coming to visit, and your commitment to
    developing a love of books in your school culture is to be commended!

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    1. Amy - Thank you! I have learned that you can only develop a school culture from a place that you are passionate and reading, books & kids are all extremely important to me. So glad to have you as part of our school.

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