Who would have believed that it would come to this?
Education Week is having a webinar on new approaches to reading aloud in K-2nd grade (New Strategies for Reading Aloud to K-2 Students, Thurs. June 18, 2-3 p.m ET). The underwriting for the webinar is through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and with Common Core the idea is that you must move away from the “cozy” reading gatherings to “crafting questions that guide children back to the text to build vocabulary, content knowledge, and evidence-based understanding of the text.”
What a complete lack of trust in children! To manipulate this sacrosanct process in honor of Common Core programming is nothing less than heresy!
As a parent and teacher I am here to tell you the most important thing anyone can do with a young child (and even an older one) is read aloud to them. It’s so simple—so pure in its intent and approach! Teachers, parents and librarians have been thrilling children for years by simply reading aloud. Questions flow naturally. It needs no fine tuning!
To make educators and parents feel like they must subscribe to constructing questions, and emphasizing vocabulary and content knowledge as they read, is harmful. To imply you require evidence the child obtained knowledge from the book destroys the sheer beauty of reading for pleasure.
There is a time and place for analyzing text—especially as children get older—but not during story hour. No way!
I would add that even older students, and students with reading disabilities, appreciate being read to with no strings attached. To listen to the words and the stories for enjoyment creates its own special learning. I think it is especially important for students who see reading as boring or difficult, to hear words that stimulate them to seek out books on their own.
To manipulate this process means you are not looking at reading through a child’s eyes. They will ask their own questions. If the adult takes over completely, the child never feels in control. They never learn their thoughts and ideas are worth anything.
The best thing an adult can do while reading aloud to children, is to learn how to use their voice while reading to make the words come alive. It is the best time to be an actor! Raise your voice when there is something exciting or lower it to whisper when the character is in danger. Practice reading with inflection, before reading the book out loud, and children will love you for it.
I used to drive out of my way to take my daughter to a library story hour with a librarian who had mastered the art of a reading performance. The room was decorated with lively storybook characters. Many parents stayed to listen because they loved the stories too!
Not only did the librarian read she used props—sometimes puppets or music et cetera. If she asked any questions they were “What do you think about that?” or “How does that make you feel?” Afterwards, parents ran to get books because we knew the checkout line would be long. Every child left with bags of picture books!
If you want to make the stories come alive, and many librarians and teachers have done this well for years, rip down those data walls and put up bulletin boards of the characters or scenes you read about. Immerse children in the stories they love. This develops the joy of reading and will make children hunger for more!
And someday they will crossover into tougher books because they will be curious about those too.
Find ways to supplement the stories.
I’ve always been a fan of Story S-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-r-s: Activities to Expand Children’s Favorite Books, a series of books with popular fiction and nonfiction, time honored books and matching activities that generate excitement over what is read. But this is much different than quizzing children about the text.
And for young children—there is no better way to help them connect the meaning of vocabulary to pictures than Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever! So exquisitely simple!
To read charming and funny picture books—and I’d add that silly picture books are sometimes the best—drives young children to read. It motivates them to see what’s on the next page and the next….
If you steal that process children will be confused or they will learn to hate reading!
Making reading into a chore because a bunch of controlling adults must micromanage everything for the sake of a program is wrong.
What the Common Core aficionados seem to have forgotten, or what they don’t know, is that reading aloud to children is fun! It’s motivating! That’s all the evidence we need.
Parents, teachers and librarians—how do you motivate students to read for joy?
Sheila Resseger says
Who would have believed this, indeed. This is tragic. To read that this wrong-headed and damaging webinar was underwritten by the Gates Foundation is no surprise. Absolutely appalling! One of the most meaningful compliments I ever got from a student (and compliments did not come often from this particular student) was this–I taught an introduction to Latin and Roman Civilization Course to middle and high school students at the RI School for the Deaf. Part of the program that I developed (because I had complete autonomy to design my own curriculum) was reading The Aeneid in prose translation. The reading level even of that version for younger readers was above the level of most of the students in the class, so I would tell the story, using sign language, of course. The student who mostly could not be bothered to engage in much of anything told me that watching me sign the story was like watching a movie. YES!
Nancy Bailey says
As always, Sheila, thank you for your wonderful comment. How interesting that you were able to reach your students that way!
Claudette Gerdjunis says
This year I read aloud To Kill a Mockingbird over 5 weeks to my 8th grader because I couldn’t bare the thought of close reading stealing the joy of the rhythm of the story. It was one of my favorite novels back in the 70’s when I was a teenager and I didn’t want the methodology to scare him away from classic literature. I was concerned about the antiquated language and mature themes making the text complex since he typically reads and comprehends slightly below grade level. I was also concerned about the way the mature subject mater would be addressed in class so I took the opportunity to read aloud and discuss as we went along. We also watched the movie staring Gregory Peck and over the course of reading we completed the entire EngageNY module of questions/short answers for each chapter. I had given my son the choice of book on tape or me reading. He also enjoys book on tape. It was a little stressful reading 30-40 pages a night out loud but it did benefit my son’s understanding of the novel and calmed my worry about the adult themes in the book, my son’s understanding and enjoyment of the literature.
I continue to have issue with the State Ed department’s literature choices on the middle school level this year. Both of my children have lost their love of reading. My 6th grader, who is an A student has had his grades suffer because of his rebellion against the close reading, annotating and other CC methodology and writing instruction, particularly, opinion essays that lead him to use their text to write their opinion as his own. He is tired of literature that he characterizes as “dark and gloomy” that leaves him feeling anxious, worried, scared or alone. He would like a balance of stories about “a kid he can relate to, not one in crisis” and a heart warming story for a change. Both my children long for fiction that fun, light and engaging and not heavy and full of social “lessons” and facts and history and science. Sad.
Nancy Bailey says
Hi Claudette, Thank you! I shared your concerns when my daughter came home with Mockingbird in middle school. But I spoke with her about it and her teacher handled it magnificently. Still, I think it is a better book for high school. My opinion.
I share your son’s dislike of the “dark and gloomy” novels they are assigned to read. I also notice the YA book shelves at the bookstores are always dark! Teenage angst sells I guess. I’d like to see some books along the lines of the Napoleon Dynamite movie which was quirky and strange but which had a heartwarming point about being an underdog.
I have a special interest in children’s literature, but I am coming up short right now on funny books for 8th graders. I will let you know if something comes to me!
Sharon Murphy says
You might be interested in a report I completed in Canada called “Towards Sustaining and Encouraging Reading in Canadian Society” which was commissioned by the National Reading Campaign. There’s a link to it on my website http://www.changingliteracy.com/.
The National Reading Campaign asked for a review of research focused on the benefits of reading for pleasure for individuals and for society in general.
Maggie Manning says
Love your site, Sharon!
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you for sharing, Sharon. There is a lot of interesting material here!
Stephen Sossaman says
Thank goodness we adults are allowed to just read for pleasure sometimes without having to show evidence-based understanding. Imagine leaving a movie theater and having to prove evidence-based understanding to someone. Profound and thoughtful discussions after a film can grow out of “What do you think about that!” Yes, children do need age-appropriate help discovering reading tools, but this can grow organically out of their responses and questions. Let’s let the child lead. There is no need to guess what a child is interested in knowing more about, or needs help thinking about, or doesn’t quite grasp, when the child is sitting there telling you by her or his comments and questions. Also, I strongly endorse the idea of being an actor when reading to children. Words in stories are like sheet music, play scripts, and architectural drawings: instructions for doing something, not the thing itself.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Stephen. We need to trust children more. You are right. They are naturally curious. And creating interesting backgrounds to the story is what captures their attention.
Roseann Ogas says
I came to teaching after being a library clerk for 13 years in elementary schools. We would always read to the classes as well as checking out books. My work partner and I loved ordering the books students loved and we tried to find great read-alouds for each grade level. When we go in our new book orders, we would caress the covers and while processing them, stop and read a story to each other.
When I finally got my own classroom this year, I was determined to read to my students (3rd grade) for the pure and simple joy of reading. I made them a pledge on the first day of school, I will read you a story for each day of school…180 books total. I wrote it on the board in the form of a fraction so that at the end of the year, I could point out that fraction during our last math unit.
In the words of one of my students, a very sweet autistic boy, “we reached our destination”, on the very last day of school. 180 books read! We had to make the time, some days reading 2 or even 3 books a day. But we did it, and it was worth every minute! All of my students showed a greater interest in reading and choosing books on their own. They enjoyed them so much and I know that many had never had books read to them, nor will they in the future.
With all the stress of CC, all the ridiculous questions, organizers, and close reading, I was able to show them that reading can be for their very own pleasure and their own choices. Thank you for reinforcing what we already know to be true….reading is important.
By the way, I was able to meet my upcoming students on the last day of school for about 15 minutes. What did we do? I read them our first story, and told them there will 180 more!
Nancy Bailey says
Roseannn, Thank you! What lucky children!
John Mountford says
Nancy I loved reading this. The passion with which contributors compiled their responses to your protest is testament to the fact that there are real, sensitive people who want children to experience joy and in so doing to enrich their lives through the medium of story, that pleasure as old as civilisation itself. Shame about the others!!!
My nine year old grandson lives with me and the last thing we do every night is share a book. Every time I think he’s not listening, so decide to slip in a comment totally out of context or quirky in some way, he pounces – “It doesn’t say that, Granddad,” he announces and I have to smile. Of course he’s listening, lapping it up and enjoying every moment and why wouldn’t any child?
On a slightly different tack, we have something called ‘The Big Write” in the UK, which some genius believes helps children’s writing. I call it the ‘Big Yawn!’ The very though that children need to do a big write ad nauseam is so deadening. What about compiling lists, notes, journals and a host of other formats to demonstrate the wealth of written communication?
As others have written here, why not take our lead from the children themselves? They trade in joy when empowered to do so and the learning is simply fun. Really, how can CC hope to compete??
Nancy Bailey says
I always loved journals where students could do free writing every class. Even with writing disabilities they would come up with the most fascinating ideas and stories. We cannot ignore the thoughts and ideas of children. Thanks, John!
Michelle Nicolls says
Haha–love the comment on data walls. Data walls, schmata walls. Who looks at those? Teachers! Kids don’t. I also find all the vocab and close reading questioning distracts from the story and when reading to 26 6 year olds, more distractions is NOT a better thing! I like a bit of focus prereading and afterward on strategies and let the story be the focus. (as the author intended)
Nancy Bailey says
Sure. If you must do some talking about the story before and after might work, but letting children guide the conversation gives them the chance to work out the meaning. Thanks for sharing, Michelle!
Stefan Anders says
There is nothing more disappointing as a teacher than having a data-loving principal tell you to stop read-alouds and not have students read independently in class. Without time to read in class, how will kids who don’t read at home find time to become better readers?
Thanks for a wonderful article that once again brings home the danger of CC$$. “Textual evidence” indeed. They will need that “textual evidence” to answer questions on a standardized test.
Nancy Bailey says
Yes, principals are stuck aren’t they? They need to have courage to say no to some of this stuff too and trust teachers to do the right thing.. Thanks, Stefan.
Lance Fialkoff says
Humans have been telling and listening to stories for as long as there have been humans. Our brains have evolved accordingly. To neglect fundamental neuro equipment, which will atrophy if unused, bc Bill Gates made a lot of money and wants to make more is insane.
susan norwood says
I take my high school students to the library every other week so that they can check out books that interest them. Of course, I help those who need a recommendation. Then I give them time in class to read independently. They can read pretty much anything they want. Magazines and graphic novels are fine. After reading, they write a short reflection which includes a summary of what they read, an opinion of it, questions they had and a prediction. I give them a grade for their writing. Not only do they get time to read something that they like, but they get a grade for it too. My students grow to love independent reading time. I allow at least 20 minutes for reading, as often as possible. 10 minutes for writing. Instead of data walls, I post what they write- with their permission of course. Students like to see what their peers are reading.
The reading that students have to do for standardized tests is crushingly boring and irrelevant. All they read is “passages.” Passages that have no context. This kind of pointless exercise is killing a love of reading in students and just making it a chore..
Nancy Bailey says
Susan, those teachers who don’t do this need to follow your lead! And you are right about the dull passages as well…especially with all the test prepping done today. Thank you for sharing.
I have always been an avid reader and consummate jotter of notes and ideas gleaned from books. I love reading aloud to little ones and have amassed a collection of children’s books. I have an autistic 4 yr old daughter and I read to her every night. I am so glad I went to school before all the common core crap. I don’t think I would appreciate reading or books or thinking freely as much as I do. I also wanted to add, I can pinpoint specific teachers who have inspired, reached out, and accommodated my strengths while working on my weaknesses. I can’t imagine this is possible in the for-profit schools and with a different standardized test to take every month. I think I would have detested my language arts classes had my amazing teachers taught the books the way common core and teaching to the tests requires. It sucks the joy out and pretty much iterates that the student isn’t a thoughtful human but a mere drone. Also, re: acting as reading out loud, when I was a misfit in later elementary and middle school, I was in a storytelling club at school run by our eccentric librarian and I was pretty darn awesome! (Alexander and the Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day ftw!) I even had the chance to go back when I was in college and read to the students at my old school. And all the kids from the little ones, to the special Ed classes, to the middle schoolers enjoy and respond. I also wanted to add that I thought about getting another degree focusing on education but after the experiences I have encountered and the mandates, tests, etc, I don’t think I will. It’s a pity because I enjoy working with little ones and seeing the spark when a kid gets a concept (something apparently no longer encouraged?!) I agree with you that one has to go through the rigorous study of teaching (which is fascinating ESP with all the theorists, and how kids learn) to teach and inspire. I also think one has to like kids and want to see them succeed. Reading and writing and specific teachers helped me when I was going through stuff as a teen. I was able to take a creative writing class in high school that the teacher tailored for me after I exhausted all the other lit courses she taught. I don’t think she would be able to do that in today’s education climate and it makes me sad…and angry.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you for sharing your reflections about reading, Nancy. I hope you are able to share your gifts with others even though you didn’t get that degree. And you can always write… it looks like it comes easy for you. Let me know if you start your own blog!