Reading Aloud to Children: What I Have Learned

By Alyson Beecher, program support specialist at Pasadena Unified School District, Pasadena, Calif.

Several years ago, I started doing classroom read-alouds. Those of you who are teachers or librarians may be saying, “What is so special about that? We do it all the time.” However, as a principal, it was easy to think that I didn't have time to go into a class and read aloud on a regular basis. Yet, three years ago, I asked two teachers if I could come into their classrooms and read to their students weekly. At that point I couldn't tell you why I picked the books that I did, what I hoped to get from the experience, or what I expected children to come away with. I just had this sense that I needed to read to them. What I discovered about reading aloud is changing me as an educator and instructional leader.

Here are five things that I have discovered while reading aloud to children:

Reading aloud to children builds relationships. When I go in one or two times a week to read with a class, I get to know the names of the children and their personalities. I have become a part of their learning community, and the books provide us with a shared history. Even a year later, I can hold up the sequel of a book I read the previous year, and we can all celebrate together. We develop a common language through references to the books that we read with one another, and I have credibility when asking about other books they are reading. I cherish the relationships I have built with my students from the time we have spent exploring books.

Reading aloud to children helps me identify student strengths and areas of need. I have learned more about children's learning styles and abilities from reading aloud to them than I have in almost any other activity. I have had children surprise me with these incredibly insightful comments when I had mistakenly thought they weren't "getting it." I have sat in teacher-parent conferences and been able to speak often with incredible accuracy about a child based on the observations I have made when reading aloud. I have also been able to advocate for services for children based on what I have learned as well.

One of the unexpected benefits of reading aloud or leading a Literacy Café for a class is that I can also identify gaps in learning. For example, I discovered while doing a Literacy Café on the Harlem Renaissance this year that some of our upper-grade students were struggling with timelines. This enabled me to have a conversation about number lines and the gaps students had in math that were showing up in other areas.

Reading aloud to children allows me an opportunity to expose them to new book titles. Though I may love Sarah, Plain & Tall or Charlotte's Web, teachers and children need to be exposed to new titles and a diverse range of books. Whether it is a collection of books from the same historical time period, a new adventure novel, or some amazing character that they must meet, read-alouds help me to introduce children to books that they would otherwise never find.

Reading aloud to children gave me a way to build a culture of reading at the school. My students know that I value books and reading. The parents know that I value books and reading. My staff members know that I value books and reading. And as a result, my students are slowly developing a love for books and reading too. They are beginning to recognize titles and authors. Students will stop by my office to see what books I may have for them. They are now checking in with our part-time library technician to look for a title that I mentioned. We may not have arrived yet, but we are certainly on the right path.

Reading aloud to children provides me with an opportunity to model for teachers how to create a passion for reading and learning with their students. Whether it is through reading aloud or through a Literacy Café, I have had opportunities to demonstrate new or different ways to celebrate books. When I spend time reading or teaching in a classroom, I have to practice what I preach. If I expect teachers to make reading or learning relevant, then I must demonstrate it too.

As I share these observations, I want to remind everyone that I am still on the path to learning. If I were to write this post in another year, I know I would have new observations or examples to share. I would also love to learn about the discoveries that you have made while reading aloud to children.

Alyson Beecher originally shared her experiences with reading aloud to students on her blog, kidlitfrenzy.com. You can follow her on Twitter @alybee930.

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