The Story of the Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig: Why students never outgrow a great read aloud.

As I observed my first period of eighth graders this morning at Harding Middle School, I saw a lot of tired eyes and blank stares.  I didn’t blame them. It was early. 7:50 am is early for developing teens. Heck, the only reason I was energetic was because my coffee was kicking in at the right time! (I am a college student after all.) It was clear to me that today would be a struggle for my kids, or would it?

As my cooperating teacher settled everybody into their desks and began discussing the outline of the day’s class, one bullet point leapt off the Smartboard and smacked me square in the face: “Listen to The Story of the Three Little Wolves and the…” As somebody who has spent extensive time at the elementary level, my first thought was of an interactive read aloud. In the elementary classrooms I have been a part of, interactive read aloud was the students’ absolute favorite 30 minutes of the day. For those 30 minutes, they could forget everything else and get lost in a story. But that was with elementary students. How would a classroom full of emerging teens feel about an interactive read aloud?

To my surprise, the students enjoyed it. Most students were locked into the story. My cooperating teacher dove head-first into the story and her students seemed to follow. Some students were even shouting out predictions as to how this version of the story would end. Sure there were those students who looked uninterested, but when it came time to discuss the story, they contributed like everybody else. As I sat and observed this happening, I realized that reading aloud isn’t just for elementary students. Even middle school students enjoy being read to every once in a while.

During passing period, I asked my cooperating teacher why she thought the students enjoyed the story so much. I explained to her that I was initially skeptical of the whole idea but was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. She told me that, in her experience, she can cluster her classes into three groups of readers: 1) The students who cannot put their books down, 2) The students who are still determining how much they like to read and 3) The students who think they don’t like to read. She told me that all three of these groups benefit from an interactive read aloud.

For those who love reading, they enjoy hearing a story read aloud to them because they aren’t used to hearing others read to them. They enjoy the different perspective. An interactive read aloud also provides a platform for the teacher to reinforce strategies that strong readers use (i.e. questioning, predicting, rereading, etc). For those students who are still trying to determine how much they love or hate reading, an excellent interactive read aloud shows them that reading can be something they can really dive into. Reading is exciting. And finally, for those students who think that they don’t enjoy reading, an outstanding interactive read aloud provides an opportunity to experience reading without “staring at the words on the page reading.” An interactive read aloud is a different way for students to experience reading.

I couldn’t agree more with these comments. Students never outgrow a great read aloud. Even as adults, we enjoy books on tape and podcasts. I know I am always excited when a new This American Life or Snap Judgement podcast is released. This is because, as humans, we love hearing stories. It is in our nature. And, in the elementary schools, we cater to human nature. We allow for students to work in groups, we encourage hard word as opposed to “the right answer,” we read aloud.

But why does this stop in middle school? Why don’t we read aloud to our older students more often? Why do we stop reading out loud to our students when they leave our fifth grade classrooms? Maybe it is the increased pressures of the state standards and the standardized tests? Maybe it is because we don’t think our students will enjoy “story time.” To be clear, there is a BIG difference between an interactive read aloud and “story time.” I don’t want to get on my soap box and preach to the choir, but I do think that teachers should really think about these questions. Why is it that we don’t read aloud to our students once they leave elementary school? I think it is time we start.

Teachers become great actors and great actresses. …We come to work to work when we don’t feel like it, and when we’re listening to policy that doesn’t make sense – we teach anyway.” – Rita Pierson

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