Bright eyes. Raised hands. Laughter. This is what read aloud looks like in my lower school classroom at The Windward School. We end the day with a 20-minute block in which I choose a picture book or a novel to read to the students. During read aloud, the character analysis is deeper, the vocabulary is expanded, and the plots are more complex.
Since students at Windward have dyslexia or another language-based learning disability, much of their day is spent focused on work that is most difficult for them. During our language arts block, teachers use a direct, sequential, multisensory approach to teach reading, which means one skill is taught at a time, and they build upon each other. Students read from controlled text, which helps them to build their reading skills and develop confidence in their abilities. Yet, students also need rich vocabulary, dynamic plot, and character development, which are not emphasized in most controlled readers.
Read alouds provide critical time for students to listen and enjoy a story, while simultaneously learning to strengthen their comprehension abilities, answer inferential questions about nuanced characters and plot points, and learn new vocabulary words in context, which their teachers continue to use throughout the year. Teachers spend time selecting texts that are tied to what the students are learning in the curriculum, the time of year, or contain especially interesting plots or vocabulary. Windward teachers are trained on how to use expert tactics to introduce the reading, ask questions throughout the story, and summarize at the end, in addition to providing an extremely enjoyable listening experience for the children.
Read alouds provide critical time for students to listen and enjoy a story, while simultaneously learning to strengthen their comprehension abilities, answer inferential questions about nuanced characters and plot points, and learn new vocabulary words in context.
Reading to children (of all ages) is not just educational—it is also pleasurable and relaxing. My favorite read aloud for my second graders has always been the Toys Go Out series. The chapters in each of the books are hilarious for children and adults, and they have such rich vocabulary and character development, even though the characters are toys. Through the years, I have adopted voices for all the characters and have acquired stuffed animal versions of them that become "mascots" in our classroom. My students beg me to read Toys Go Out every day, and each year parents tell me their children have asked them to purchase the series to have at home as well.
Although read aloud has enabled many special moments for our students, the most exciting read aloud experience for our first and second graders has been the Reading Buddies program. Windward eighth graders and our first and second graders write letters to each other as pen pals, and then the eighth graders visit to read to our students and enjoy a little party with them. Seeing the adoration in the eyes of the young students as they listen to an older version of themselves read a story so beautifully is truly magical.
When parents ask Windward teachers, “What more could I be doing to help my child?”, our answer is always the same: keep reading to them!
When parents ask Windward teachers, “What more could I be doing to help my child?”, our answer is always the same: keep reading to them! The magic of listening to a story never gets old, no matter the age of the listener. Students all the way up to high school can enjoy and benefit from engaging with text (and the person reading it), even if it seems they are “too old for a read aloud.” At Windward, we teach students to read—but we also teach them to listen.