Last year I started using the read-aloud with my 5th graders. I was inspired by Mrs.Rdz and her use of the reading strategy with her kids. It has been a complete success. When you think about it, reading a book to kids seems very practical. The issue always comes down to classroom management fears. The thought of you reading to a group of thirty ten-year olds with nothing in their hands. Teachers fear that the kids will not pay attention, or that they will be off-task. This hasn’t happened once in my short experience. When I do a read-aloud I get into the dialogue, using different voices for different characters. I sigh when the character sighs. I shout when the character shouts. I constantly use my hands and arms to act out scenes. I’m constantly walking around the classroom. It works. The fifteen to twenty minutes that I read to my students I have their undivided attention. Are they listening? Are they comprehending? Absolutely. In my old age, I’ll forget a character’s name or I’ll mix up sequences in the story’s plot and the kids are there to correct me. My response is always that I did that on purpose.
You still have to keep students accountable but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a quiz, summary or the dreaded book report. You can have students create a comic book representing the important scenes of the book. Last year students created clay dioramas of scenes from the read-aloud Frindle. When I finished reading Coraline, students created a combination of paintings and snow globes (Coraline’s parents are stuck in the snow globe. Remember?). This year we’re going to follow in Mrs.Rdz steps and create a “book trailer” (like a movie trailer) on our first read-aloud of the year, Lemony Snicket’s The Austere Academy. The key is to vary your methods for checking for comprehension and accountability. Imagine as an adult if you had to take a test on every chapter that you read in your book. Summarize here and there. Do the book report but also use alternatives to keep things fresh and more importantly so that students learn to enjoy reading for the sake of reading. The worst thing we can do is to make reading seem like a chore. We have to remember that with many kids you may be the only adult that reads to them.
Anyhow, back to the Austere Academy. How do I know that the kids enjoyed the Austere Academy? On our first trip to the library today (Don’t get me started on why our first trip to the library is nine weeks into the school year!)…on our first trip to the library today, students checked out every single Lemony Snicket book. Every one. Students looked and looked for Frindle (our current read-aloud) but unfortunately there is only one copy and it was checked out. Students quickly went in search of other books by Andrew Clements and checked all those books out as well. This all brought a great big smile to my face.