Saved by the Read-Aloud by Ryan M. Hanna
This is a simple story. A small reflection. But, it has weighed heavily on my mind and heart since the end of last school year, and what better day to share it than on Surprise Sunday?
One of the most common pieces of advice that I received from my mentors and professors when I first entered teaching was to make the time to read books aloud to my students. I am not telling the Nerdy Book Club audience anything they don’t already know when I say read-alouds benefit students in a myriad of ways, such as building students’ language and vocabulary skills, helping students gain knowledge about the world around them, and engaging students’ imaginations and creativity, just to name a few. I’ve always read to my students because I know it helps them develop a love of reading.
I made a surprising discovery this past school year. Read-alouds can sometimes be just as important to the teacher in the classroom as they are to the students.
In the fall of last school year, my school district adopted a new scripted reading program. Our district chose this new curriculum because it was aligned with the Common Core State Standards. Ultimately, it would change everything about my reading instruction. No longer was my classroom a place where vibrant guided reading and writing workshops occurred. I was not often able to conference with my students about their independent reading. What my students spent most of the time reading were assigned texts, that in some cases were far too difficult (or too easy) for them. After the reading aspect of each lesson was completed, students embarked on a lengthy amount of comprehension questions, writing prompts in response to literature, and skill-based lessons. Even though I have successfully taught language arts for ten years and have been recognized as a teacher that can ignite a reading passion, while also helping to improve students’ reading skills, the lessons I was required to teach were written in step by step, “how to operate your new Keurig®” style format. While I felt restricted in many ways, I was not going to sacrifice reading aloud. This teacher will always read books to his students.
The moments I spent reading with my students sustained me and they remain my fondest memories of a year full of changes. I learned more about my students during the time spent sitting and reading together than any of the other curriculum I taught. I saw my students’ tears when I read the “Daisy” chapter of Wonder, which led us to a class-long discussion of how difficult it is to lose a pet. I got to know their hearts through the connections they made during read-aloud, something I could not have done using one of the program lessons. I laughed along with them for minutes on end after we finished the “Peach Crayon Letter” in The Day the Crayons Quit. Then, a student suggested that they write their own books, but choose other everyday items that could “quit” on us (such as socks and technology devices)! I saw their humors in action, something not possible with a scripted written response to literature. Reading The Dot for International Dot Day was a special experience for us all, highlighted by each student illustrating his or her own dots (and then being able to trade with Kurt Stroh’s library students in Michigan). I saw my students’ colorful creativity and unique personalities represented in their dots. In the book Sideways Stories from Wayside School (a class favorite – they begged me to read the sequels), many chapters have plot clues that often lead to surprise endings. I could monitor students’ predicting and inferencing skills in between the fits of giggles at the sheer silliness taking place in Mrs. Jewel’s class. My favorite sound of the year was the symphony of student voices asking at the start of each class if we were going to read. Some of the loudest voices within the collective plea were from my reluctant readers, impatient to begin the next chapter!
There were many days that the idea of starting the next lesson was almost too much to bear. But knowing that I could first spend some time with my kids, sharing a read-aloud, made the rest of what I had to do possible. I hope my students remember me reading aloud to them and remember the laughs and tears we shared. Their teacher will.
Read-alouds save teachers, too.
List of 2013-2014 School Year Read-Alouds
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein
The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt
Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
Calling Doctor Amelia Bedelia by Herman Parish (Amelia Bedelia is great for figurative language!)
Wayside School is Falling Down by Louis Sachar
Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger by Louis Sachar
Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Ryan Hanna is a fifth-grade teacher in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has been teaching for ten years. He served as a Scholastic Book Clubs Teacher Advisor for two years and was named his school’s Teacher of the Year in 2012. Ryan is a fortunate member of the Nerdy Book Club and is a fanatic about reading (and recycling). You can find him on Twitter @rantryan and on his blog at www.seipelt5.blogspot.com.