The Evolution of My Classroom Read Aloud by Amanda Zieba
While waiting to disembark for my honeymoon my phone rang and I was offered a position within my school district as a reading teacher.
Best. Wedding. Present. Ever.
I spent the next week basking in the Mexican sun in a state of euphoric newlywed, newly hired, bliss. For many hours that week I lay by the water reading. True to my inner dork, I was reading middle grade lit. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, to be precise. Oh how I fell in love with the book about loving books. Who hasn’t wished to slip between the pages of their favorite novel and live in a fantastic world full of adventure? I couldn’t put this book down and I couldn’t wait to share it with my students. Conveniently, it was August and I wouldn’t have to wait long.
That first year I set aside the last five minutes of every class period to read Inkheart aloud. I am not too proud to admit that this was less than successful. My timing as a new teacher was still a bit shaky. Sometimes we read for 5 minutes, sometimes 2. My classes were in different spots within the book and five different color coded post it notes stuck out of the book in a way that had my Type A personality screaming with displeasure. We never made it through the book and I doubt my students enjoyed the experience. But I wasn’t giving up.
Again I planned to read for the last five minutes of class, but darn it this time I was REALLY going to read for five minutes, not two. I can hear you veteran teacher clucking your tongues at my rookie self. By reading at the end of my class I let too many factors play interference with the reading experience I was trying to create. What if I had a room full of twenty loud-mouthed, hormonal middle school students working quietly? No sanity-preserving teacher wants to interrupt that! Or maybe my lesson runs a little long or we are deep in a great discussion, so I just skip reading aloud that day. And then there are the times that we do read and totally love it, but are cut off by the bell before we have time to finish a scene or process what we have read. Opportunity wasted. The one positive change I made in my second year was to read a different book every class period. I had solved my problem of being bored by reading the same thing over and over again, but my read aloud was still a fail.
I moved the read aloud to the beginning of the class period. The students came into the room and quickly quiet down, ready to hear the next installment of our book. Reading during these very first five minutes of class has allowed my students time to transition into my room, quietly prepare themselves (fill out their assignment notebook, fish homework out of their binders, get out a pencil), and enjoy a reading experience by listening to a fluent reader. After reading aloud, we moved on with our lesson. Success.
Repeat… with one minor change. For each class I showcase three to four preselected titles by reading the book blurbs. Then I let the students vote on the book we will read. This personal investment has taken a successful practice and raised it to the next level. The books that are not selected go into my classroom library and are quickly checked out by those who were in the voting minority. In my classroom students are critically evaluating books (by genre, author, blurb, etc.), making a personal investment and experiencing books in which they are interested. This is success.
Year 6 and 7…
Next year will be my eighth year teaching 6th grade reading. I can honestly say that reading aloud to my students is my favorite part of the school day. I hope some of them would say the same. Judging by the cries of mutiny I hear each time I close the book, I’m guessing it is true for more than a few of them.
Here are a few tips when selecting books for your read aloud.
- Choose books you have not read before, but have researched to make sure they are age appropriate for your class.
- Select books in the 180-250 page range. When you are reading only five to seven minutes a day, it can take a long time to get through a book. You want to strongly hold their interest throughout the entire book.
- Do not be afraid to abandon a book. We can all tell when our students are disengaged. Don’t force them to sit and pretend they are listening, when they could be rapt with attention at the edge of their seats. As adults, we do not read books we do not like (unless for professional purposes). Kids shouldn’t have to follow different rules. Teach them that reading is a choice activity, not a forced activity.
- Selecting a series as a read aloud is a great way to hook reluctant readers. I rarely read the second book in a series aloud. Instead, I push the subsequent books of the series into eager hands and watch my readers grow and soar on their own.
Our favorite read alouds this year:
Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelson
Beneath by Roland Smith
The Always War by Margaret Peterson Haddix
The Neptune Project by Polly Holyoke
Doll Bones by Holly Black
Amanda Zieba is a full time teacher, a mother and wife at all times and a writer any moment she can squeeze in. She is the author of three children’s books (The Orphan Train Riders Series) and two YA science fiction novels (Breaking the Surface and the sequel,Bridging the Tides). Find her on Amazon or her Facebook page. Contact her for school author visits, book sales or contracted freelance work.