For the first 13 years of my career, I was teaching in a self-contained classroom, most of that time was with 5th graders, and no matter what grade I was in, I was ALWAYS doing read alouds. Read alouds were my favorite part of the day. In October, I usually read The Witches by Roald Dahl and tried to perfect my Russian accent (it was horrible, but still a lot of fun!). At the beginning of the school year, I read Wonder by RJ Palacio to bring the community together through reading. In January, I always chose a book that related to the history I was teaching, whether it be WWII or the Civil Rights Movement. By the end of the school year, I would have mystery, historical fiction, fiction, nonfiction and fantasy under my belt. The kids would look forward to it after lunch everyday and so did I!
This year is my first year teaching middle school, 6th grade, and I was not prepared to give up my sacred read aloud time. And luckily, I am at a school where that is not expected. However, it’s not as easy to fit into my day as I hoped. Typically, my schedule is two 50 minute periods with two different classes. So I see each class twice a day for 50 minutes.
Why do I choose to continue to read aloud with 6th graders when our time is limited and there’s SO MUCH to do? To answer that question, I have to answer some other questions first.
What is considered read aloud in my classroom? Well, let me tell you what it’s NOT. It’s not their “class novel” that I read to them and we discuss. I don’t read an article and then have students answer questions about it and call that read aloud either. Nor do I read a page or two from a book while modeling a reading strategy and call that read aloud. Even though all of these things do in fact take place in my classroom, I do not consider it “read aloud”. Read aloud, to me, is a sacred time in the classroom where I am reading a novel to students that relates to their learning and gets them excited about hearing a story read by their teacher. They get the pillows out, they get comfortable on the rug or find a comfy chair and settle in for 20 - 30 minutes.
What it looks like to students: To students, it looks like I am reading a story that I love and sharing it with them.
What it looks like to me: I am reading a story that I love to students while modeling reading strategies without explicitly teaching reading strategies. Rather, I am reading aloud and pointing out a reading strategy here and there. Sometimes I will point out that I am rereading a section because it doesn’t make sense, then realize that I read a word wrong and good thing I went back for clarity. Other times, I will just mention things like a prediction and why that makes sense to me. Most of the time, I tend to keep read aloud an experience of just listening and observing on the students’ end. Sometimes, we will discuss the reading as well. It just depends on the needs of the class.
So why do I continue to do this with 6th graders when I have very limited time with them and so much to get done? The answer is simple, I truly value read aloud with kids. I know for a fact, it helps students appreciate reading. They get involved in it and discuss characters with me as if they were real people. That proves investment in the reading. I’ve had many students tell me that don’t like reading, “except for the books I’ve read to them” and from there, it’s about finding more books like the ones I’ve read and they suddenly now have a book they are enjoying reading on their own.
As teachers, we are constantly having to ask ourselves what we value most for our students. There will never be enough time in the day and that’s okay! If there was enough time, we’d never sleep! What do you highly value in your classroom? Is there something you’ve done that (maybe) most teachers don’t do, but you believe it’s a critical part of what you’re doing with your students? I love to hear about it!
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Daughter of the King, wife and mother, former upper elementary teacher, curriculum and course developer