The Power of ​Read-Alouds in Elementary & Secondary Classes

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March 11, 2019

By Gina Pepin, Ed.D.
March is one of the most exciting times during the school year. It is the month we celebrate reading in every elementary classroom in the nation. 

We spend an enormous amount of time transforming schools into extraordinary places where vibrant storybook characters come to life. Sheer passion and sparkle bring life to the many marvelous texts we have grown to love and emulate in our daily practices. ​Reading Month elevates literacy into an electrifying championship where students compete and celebrate the remarkable experiences that text and teachers provide them. 

One of the most powerful literary opportunities we provide to children is our ability to make a read-aloud become something magical. In elementary schools, read-alouds are part of daily practice. A shared, meaningful literacy experience often awaits students as they return from afternoon activities. Teachers can use text to morph classroom rugs into dynamic literacy- and language-rich experiences as students ride magic carpets throughout the classroom during a read-aloud.​ Reading Month​ provides opportunities for us, as teachers, to magnify these experiences into brilliant and memorable activities; however, we shouldn’t let it stop at the elementary level any longer. …

I was recently reading an updated report from Scholastic titled “The ​Kids and Family Reading Report” ​that highlighted read-alouds in the home environment. This report really tugged at my heart strings and made me realize something very valuable. Although the report highlighted new research regarding the increase in the frequency of parent read-alouds at home (since 2014), it also included information that was shocking.

The report noted that the frequency of parent read-alouds in the home dropped significantly after the age of 5, and then again after the age of 8. It was reported that only 17 percent of children between the ages of 9 and 11 participated in read-alouds with a parent in the home environment.

I am guilty of this, as well. As my own children grew older and became proficient readers, I stopped reading aloud to them. This reality really hurt and hit home for me. I didn’t realize the significance of this until it was right in front of me. Most importantly, I know this is happening in secondary classrooms as well; read-alouds are rarely part of daily instruction.

As teachers we know the importance of read-alouds in the classroom and at home, and we must keep this momentum going strong for ​all​ age levels. This need is truly supported when you think about the rise in adult “audible” or “read to me” texts that are downloaded every year. There seems to remain one constant – we all, at any age, love to partake in read-aloud experiences.

We are learning that as children become independent readers, adults are ceasing to read-aloud to them. In the report “​From Striving to Thriving​,” the authors stress the importance of having students listen to a proficient reader read, daily, in the classroom.

Teachers need to model prosody, metacognition, inquiry and so much more as part of an instructional routine. Most importantly, this needs to be occurring daily, in ​all​ K-12 classrooms. Furthermore, teachers can use any form of text during read-alouds. The texts that educators choose to use for read-alouds at the elementary level can also be used at the secondary level to provide joyful literary experiences. For example, early picture books can be used as a read-aloud choice for students in both early and later grades. These books capture the rhythm and rhyme of early print; however, they also can contain complex text structures and themes. These components are excellent springboards for discussion and book talks in the classroom. Additionally, the cadence of the English language can be found through volumes of diverse text; students can benefit from read-alouds from any genre.  Every. Single. Day. 

When planning practices that encompass read-alouds, students’ age, grade level and reading level should never be considered the only factors. Shared interactive read-alouds should be embedded into daily instruction. These practices provide opportunities for students to develop strong reading competencies through listening, inquiry and talk. If we read compelling and joyful books to our students and then surround them with unlimited access to irresistible texts of choice, we will foster a community of remarkable readers. Our students will savor every experience we provide with jubilant enthusiasm and engaged persistence. 

There are many ways to include read-alouds in the elementary and secondary classroom. Some of these activities may include: 
  • Interactive read-alouds
    • Insert choral reading phrases
    • Echo reading
  • Read-alouds that expose students to diverse literary elements
  • Read-alouds that highlight different text structures
    • Print-reference texts
  • Read-aloud texts – include stories that inspire and build curiosity
    • Create deep meaningful experiences for students where they can make connections and think deeply about their own life
Students of ​all​ ages deserve to celebrate joyful reading opportunities throughout the month of March. Reading Month is a time to empower students to fall in love with reading all over again. You can do this by creating instructional time that focuses on exemplary integration of innovative read-aloud activities. Now is the time to transform your school, classroom and students -- because in March, reading is always magical. 

Gina Pepin, Ed.D., is a 2018-19 Michigan Regional Teacher of the Year and a third-grade teacher for the Escanaba Area Public Schools.
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