Teachers urged to read aloud to teens

Teachers are reading aloud to middle and high school students, reports Education Week.

“The practice builds middle school students’ knowledge in content areas, helps them have positive attitudes toward reading, and helps increase their reading fluency,” writes Lettie K. Albright, an associate professor in literacy at Texas Woman’s University.

The most common reason for reading aloud, according to survey respondents, was to promote a love of literature or reading. Other top reasons were to build interest in a topic or introduce a topic, model fluent reading, and expose students to texts they might not read otherwise.

Some teachers are reading picture books to their students to supplement the text. Well, I guess that doesn’t take up much class time.

One teacher, who reads Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men to his 11th-grade English students each year, “sees reading aloud as an equalizer for students who will read an assigned book and those who won’t.” He skipped his assigned reading when he was in school.

Catering to the non-readers seems like a waste of time for students who read for themselves and a crutch for those who could read but don’t bother.  Those who can’t read need more instruction so they can read independently.

My fifth-grade teacher read bits of Nicholas Nickleby to us. It went painfully slowly. I vividly remember how frustrated I was.

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  1. OTOH, if you can read aloud with expression and emotion, reading speeches and poems aloud works quite well.

  2. This is symptomatic of what I describe as “literacy creep” — the steady encroachment of elementary school reading instruction techniques into middle school and now high school. Indeed, there are ever louder calls for explicit reading instruction all the way through 12th grade. The idea seems to be taking hold that somehow reading a science or history text is fundamentally different than reading fiction, and a different set of reading muscles must be used.

    This is, of course, nonsense.

    There’s nothing wrong with reading aloud to students in high school — especially poetry and drama. But if it’s being done to mask the students’ reading deficiencies, then the best that can be said is this makes a virtue of necessity.

  3. I’m a high school English teacher. There are certainly times, as mentioned, when reading to the students is helpful. The idea of reading the entirety of “Of Mice and Men” out loud – to 11th graders no less – is ridiculous. I agree with Robert on the literacy creep and often wonder if these notions don’t take hold because teachers don’t know what they’re supposed to teach when they teach a novel, beyond who the characters were and what they did. (I’ve mentored a few new teachers who struggled with this.) Or, perhaps this just seems like a reasonable solution to keeping a classroom full of students with enormous disparities in reading ability on track and working at a reasonable pace.

    At any rate, it seems to me to be robbing students of the opportunity to – yes – struggle and accomplish, as well as underestimating their abilities and promoting helplessness.

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Reading from a text in small amounts is extremely difficult to avoid in teaching pretty much anything.

    I’m not sure which of the following scenarios, however, represents the sadder case:

    * A student sits as his or her teacher reads to him and quietly fumes at how insulting it all is and resolves that school is the worst thing in the world because they treat him or her like he or she was 6.

    * A student doesn’t realize how insulting it all is.

  5. Dick Eagleson says:

    My 3rd grade teacher read all of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn to our class. I was a good reader by then, but still liked her rendering of Twain. It was riveting. Especially the sequence in the cave with Injun Joe.

    High school, I think, would have been quite a different matter. I can only speculate as to that because, thank goodness, none of my high school English teachers seemed inclined to read passages longer than perhaps a sentence or two aloud. To the extent there was reading aloud in class, we were the ones called upon to do nearly all of it.

    Different times.

  6. A few years back, I pointed out to my two oldest children, then 8 and 10, that the elementary school guidelines called for parents to read aloud to children at all grade levels.

    Absolute horror covered their faces. At that point, they could already read more quickly than I could read aloud. In elementary school, parents of good readers encounter difficulties in finding appropriate reading material. Much of current middle-school fiction is inappropriate in content for elementary students, or just uninteresting to them. Fortunately, many older books for children were written to a higher standard than many current “chapter books.” In my experience, nonfiction books are frequently more sophisticated in sentence structure than fiction aimed at the same grade level. (I’m thinking of the Dorling Kindersly books, or the “science encyclopedias,” or the “Don’t know much about…” series, not nonfiction picture books.)

    To think of this technique used frequently in high school classrooms is stunning. If there are many students who don’t do the assigned reading for a class, that is an argument for tracking. The word which comes to mind for such techniques is, “pablum.” Of course you could hear a pin drop. They may be catching up on their sleep, or furiously texting under their desks. It’s pleasant to have a time in which you need only keep your eyes open.

    I would also wonder if this weren’t a sign of “test prep” techniques creeping into the high school.

  7. My big question is, when I read aloud, should I require students to follow along?

    Would I gain any more knowledge or enjoyment if I read the news from Lake Wobegon while Garrison Keillor told it to me?

    I suspect I make my students follow along so they won’t be texting or drawing or, gulp, reading something else.

    Textbook publishers these days put all the stories on CD and we have teachers at our school who just play the CD’s without having the students follow along. They are supposedly good teachers. Do they know something I don’t know?

    I really wish I knew more about how to teach reading. I don’t trust the textbook publishers and I don’t trust any fads of the day.

    Accelerated Reading, which is widespread today, appears to be popular but it’s computer based and our computers, not being Macs, break down all the time.

  8. Why not have the students take turns reading aloud – like those dreaded reading circles we used to have to make in elementary school? Of course, some would argue that it would cause undue humiliation to those that have poor reading skills – but, if they can’t read on that level in the first place, should they really be in the class?

  9. Parent2: Rosemary Sutcliff wrote excellent versions of the Odyssey, Iliad, Tristan & Isolde, King Arthur, Boadicea etc. and a number of historical novels. Most of the latter are set in Roman Britain and have a young male protagonist. My kids loved them from 3rd-4th grade onward and I can read and enjoy them; they are that well-written.

  10. Mamasteff says:

    My spouse has been a high school English teacher for 10 years, in low performing/ high poverty schools. He, like the 11th grade teacher mentioned, used to read the novel aloud to the class because he knew the students were not reading at home. This year he refused to do it, and found that student participation and reading the assignment before class has gone up. Reading aloud to the students can be a beautiful thing – they need to hear good readers reading well, at any age. But there is simply not enough time in class every day for the teacher to do all the reading for the students.

  11. I have heard English teachers at my inner city high school say that the only way they can get through a book is to read it aloud. I also have a team member who is an English teacher and gets frustrated with students not reading because, “our teachers always read TO us; why do we have to read on our own?” It only cripples inner city school kids to do this.

  12. Robert: Yes, actually, some studies have shown that reading along is as effective as having them reading on their own. That said, it’s pretty hard to get students to read along, but I’ve seen it help raise reading levels fairly dramatically. I use a number methods, so I can’t say for sure how much this helped alone, but when I added it to the rotation with explicit instructions to the kids to read along with little bookmarks I’d made, etc. (poor readers often have hard time following a line of text) along with the reason, I saw a significant bump.

    As for it helping *you* — well, I assume you already know how to read pretty well, huh? :).

  13. From the time I learned how to read — I believe I was three, but maybe it was four — I hated having people read to me. My mother was much grieved. In 11th grade? Gag me with a spoon.

  14. I’m actually shocked at these responses. I read aloud to my kids every day, and they love it. Sometimes we do picture books – they love them. Sometimes novels, a chapter or so at a time – they love that too. This does not mean they don’t read independently, because they do, for almost an hour a day between class reading and homework, but I do the read aloud to demonstrate sheer pleasure in reading, to make difficult text more accessible, and to build community. Too many kids don’t get those things otherwise. I can’t promise that they all love every minute of it, but most of them do.

  15. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Teachin’ –

    Lots of mothers nurse their children and it’s good for them and a wonderful experience. Lots of parents bathe their kids, because it’s good to develop habits of cleanliness.

    But you stop at some point, because it starts to get weird when the kids gets older.

  16. I find that many of the smartest kids I have recoil at read-alouds –they whiz ahead and finish the text way before the rest of us. I suspect the majority, however, enjoy or at least appreciate it as a comprehension aid. I justify it as a method of imbuing students’ brains with vocab and knowledge, much of which they would miss without the intonation, asides and whiteboard illustrations that I add.

  17. Kevin Smith says:

    I think if classes were not grouped so that ONLY poor readers were in a class together that then you could have good readers to set a positive example. We have a program where Seniors work as aides in Freshman English classes and it has been a real boost to have them to lead reading groups in lower level classes with struggling readers.

  18. In too many schools the good readers would get beat up for “acting white” and then the school would get sued for allowing racial intimidation.

  19. “But you stop at some point, because it starts to get weird when the kids gets older”

    That makes little sense in regards to reading aloud.

    I read aloud to my kids (11 and 7)and have no intention of stopping at some magical age (especially since my husband, 36, seems to enjoy read alouds as well). It gives us time together, lets us enjoy a book together, and gives us the opportunity to discuss something as it’s read.

    Reading aloud was a form of entertainment for people of all ages for a very long time and those who could do it well were admired. It’s a bit of modern snobbery that’s it’s something just for little children. I’m rather hoping my daughter will start reading prose to me soon (she does read poetry to the family now) Granted, not every book works well as a read aloud. Lord of the Rings kills your voice and Little Women is tough to make work but anything by Roald Dahl is great fun and Anne of Green Gables is a treat. Epics like The Odyssey and Beowulf are properly read aloud as they were products of oral tradition in the first place.

    Whether this works in school is a much different matter. It works in my home because the kids don’t go to school and we can devote and hour or hours a day to it. Where a teacher only has a student for a relatively short time in school it may not be appropriate at all. But whether it’s proper for school shouldn’t be a judgement about reading aloud in all circumstances.

  20. Homeschooling Granny says:

    If good readers do not want to be read to, why are there books on CD?

  21. The only time any adult in my family uses books on CD is on long car trips.

  22. The article is about middle and high school teachers being urged to read MORE out loud to students. I don’t think there’s a single teacher who doesn’t read out loud to their students at some point, and in English class certainly poetry, epics, speeches benefit from being read by someone who understands the form and how to read it well.

    There’s nothing wrong with reading some things out loud. It’s when the teacher reads everything out loud that I become concerned. As an English teacher, my sole responsibility is not to foster a love of reading, though I certainly count it as one of my objectives. Another, more important, responsibility I have is to teach students how to find information in the printed word, how to understand the language and all its wonderful devices, and how to analyze the ideas and information being presented. Part of that requires students to process words on their own without my oral interpretation of tone, character voices, action, etc.

    I use a variety of strategies for novel reading, but would never read an entire novel out loud.

  23. Michael E. Lopez, Esq. says:

    Quoth Dawn Adams:

    I read aloud to my kids (11 and 7)and have no intention of stopping at some magical age (especially since my husband, 36, seems to enjoy read alouds as well). It gives us time together, lets us enjoy a book together, and gives us the opportunity to discuss something as it’s read.

    Well, first off, your kids are 11 and 7. That’s not really much of a counterexample. Come back in two years and tell me your 13 year old likes to be read to out loud and I’ll be impressed. 11-12 is, in my experience as a child’s librarian, where kids start to feel like it’s belittling.

    On the other hand, maybe things will just be different in your house — which is perfectly fine. Perhaps the Adams household will continue to have a wonderful oral tradition just the way that the Lopez household continues to maintain certain old traditions of hospitality that have been all but discarded in the modern age.

    But we have to accept that people will think, justifiably, that we’re weird.

    As for my attitude being a bit of “modern snobbery”… well, yes. Certainly. But typical snobs are snobs because they have a lot of money and the targets of their disdain do not. In this case, I’m being a modern snob because my culture has massive levels of literacy. Historically speaking, we’re doing pretty good. We seem to be backsliding a little into more of an aristocrats-can-read sort of world, but things haven’t gotten that bad yet.

    Maybe the world would be a better place if we all sat around and read novels to each other instead of watching movies. But seeing as we can all read to ourselves, much faster and on our own time, people seem to have decided to go with that instead.

    And, for the record, I admit that Homer and Beowulf and Shakespeare are special cases.

  24. In (too) many cases, secondary level teachers read aloud to their students because their students weren’t taught to read in the elementary grades. It’s no secret that schools don’t teach reading very well.

    Call it “mission creep” or call it what you will. Secondary level teachers are reading to their students for the same reason that my college president is talking about our university establishing a program for 13th grade students, or the students who can pay money to the institution but can’t read and write or do math very well. And, it’s the same reason that the teacher ed program at our university is establishing a new required course (MTH 090) that does nothing but teach arithmetic computation because the students who want to be teachers can’t do long multiplication and division and can’t handle the mystery of fractions. The same department is considering establishing a new required writing course because their prospective teachers can’t write and don’t understand grammar and the English department at the university refuses to teach those skills in what used to be called Freshman English.

    Schools, both public and private, are in bad shape folks and they are NOT getting any better.

  25. How timely! I just covered Of Mice and Men in my 11th grade American Lit class and had this same internal dialogue of whether or not it was beneficial to read aloud. My first thought was that it is ridiculous to read to these kids, even with varying rates of reading speed and ability. However, since I only had half of a class set of novels, reading on their own was not an option.

    I read aloud to them initially to set the pace and because of the bad language. (We all know those kids who are going to yell out the bad words in the text because they can. At least they’re reading, right?) Day 2, I tried the round robin approach. This proved disastrous. After about the 4th person read, the others (and I) were getting impatient and beginning to lose focus.

    I agree that with poetry and drama and sometimes other works, reading aloud works well to assist students with interpretation. However, I find these kids rely on it. They don’t want to think for themselves. (Not sure if it’s the kids at my school or kids, in general). Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

  26. knw: I put up some strategies here:

    My pop might be very different from yours, but you might get some ideas to play with.

    I never do read-aloud more than 20 minutes at a time. If I’m dying of boredom, so are they.

  27. My husband and I read out loud to each other all the time – fairly short pieces, as others have mentioned. I haven’t got the patience even to listen to a professionally-produced audiobook.

    If these teachers are being encouraged to read aloud “more” – it makes me wonder how much they were reading aloud, and how much they’re being asked to. (I wasn’t able to read the full article.)


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