MAKING READ ALOUDS MORE STRATEGIC & EFFECTIVE

Read-Aloud: “A key instructional strategy in which the teacher selects a book that is beyond what children can read on their own and reads it aloud to the class to promote a love of reading; to improve children’s level of comprehension; to build children’s knowledge of vocabulary and language structures; to expose children to “book language” (literary text or devices); and to demonstrate reading strategies.”  
FREQUENCY: DAILY. Ontario Ministry of Education (MoE)
An extensive body of research shows that the interactive read aloud is the cornerstone of literacy instruction. Through daily read alouds, teachers are able to introduce and explore with children, complex ideas and language they would be unable to read on their own, and introduce vocabulary that would be unlikely to come-up in casual conversation. Read alouds should not be limited to early learning, nor to fiction.  They can be highly effective when used strategically and skillfully with fiction and non-fiction texts in classrooms from Kindergarten to Grade 12. 
IMPORTANT: Research suggests that the ‘old-school’ read-aloud, where the adult reads and the child listens quietly, may be effective in settling a child down before bedtime, but has very little literacy benefit.  Therefore, the daily read aloud, no matter how brief, should include at the very least, a picture walk* and allow time for students to talk about the book. 
In order to maximize the effectiveness of the highly strategic read aloud, that is meant to explore big ideas or language conventions,  the read aloud must be purposeful and carefully planned. “Teachers can’t simply grab a book off the shelf and read it in the hopes of having an effective interactive read-aloud (Hilden 2013).”  Strategic read alouds, therefore, should include: before, during and after activities, which are dependent upon the focus of the read aloud (Beers 2003). 
 READ ALOUD/THINK ALOUD
READ ALOUD-THINK ALOUD
The most effective read aloud for reading difficult texts, modelling strategies and teaching  complex vocabulary, and complex & abstract ideas in fiction and non-fiction, is the read aloud/think aloud. It teaches students how to navigate and really get down into difficult texts…it “makes the strategies that skilled readers use, transparent to the learner (Beers 2003).”
The read aloud/think aloud can be used as a stand-alone strategy to focus on 1 or 2  specific reading skills at a time, or to introduce a theme, unit or topic. When carefully planned and implemented, the read aloud/think aloud strategy has the capacity to assist students in making extraordinary leaps in reading proficiency at all grade levels
FREQUENCY READ ALOUD/THINK ALOUD :  Minimum of one per week. Depending on the complexity, one text may be re-read several times, or over several days.
SO, WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
Even though the significant benefits of the read aloud/think aloud are well-documented, this strategy is the most likely to be misunderstood, underused, or completely avoided by teachers (Hilden 2013). Teachers report that they either think it requires too much planning, or their students “would find it too difficult.”  Oftentimes, teachers working with early, emergent or struggling readers believe, in error, that the primary focus should be on “learning the basics,” which generally translates as word reading and literal meanings. This  type of thinking suggests that fully understanding and synthesizing the deeper layers of meaning in texts is somehow a “luxury” reserved for when students “graduate” from the emergent stage of reading. Unfortunately, this undermines the main purpose for reading, which is always for meaning.  
NELSON CROSS-CURRICULAR KITS 
In Section 23 Programs, K-3 classrooms are supplied with Nelson Literacy Cross-curricular kits which provide detailed lesson plans for read-alouds. Each of the kits are designed to be implemented over 2- 6 weeks and include 3 or 4 picture books, which are connected to the content. As evidence-based research recommends, these books generally fall into the “difficult range,” that is they are 1 to 2 grade levels above students’ reading level but are at the listening comprehension level of students.
CROSS-CURRICULAR TEACHER GUIDES: 
1) set the purpose for the read
2) provide detailed before, during and after strategies which guide the teacher through repeated readings of the stories
4) provide prompts for discussion
6) provide suggestions for response and extension activities.
Once teachers and students have had the opportunity to become familiar with the read loud/think aloud format, skills can be adapted as necessary and transferred to other difficult texts.
“Realize that regular practice of those guidelines over time (and not the amount of time) builds mastery. One spectacular read-aloud event by itself will not do much, but if delivered consistently, they will build student skills over time. When students identify the read aloud segment as the single most meaningful part of their day, you’ll know you’ve hit your target (Puett Miller 2014).”
Picture walk*A pre-reading activity in which children review the pictures and other graphic material (e.g., charts) in a text, as well as picture titles and captions, to predict the content of the text. (MoE)
Attached: Ontario Ministry of Education  (MoE) Read Aloud/Think Aloud Framework: Click here to download: read-aloud framework
 
REFERENCES
  • Beers, K.(2003). When Kids Can’t Read What Teachers Can Do.Heinemann    
  • Harte, A. Williams-Taylor, C. & Chang, G.L. (2011).  Literacy K-12: Teaching & Learning, expected practice seriesp.3. TDSB. Toronto.            
  • Hilden, K  & Jones, J.  (2013). Effective Interactive Read-Alouds Build Stronger Comprehension. Reading Today.  Vol. 30 Issue 5.       
  • Lane, H. B. and Wright, T.L. (2007). Maximizing the effectiveness of reading aloud.Reading Teacher. Vol. 60 Issue 7, p668­675. 8p
  • MOE. (2003) A Guide to Effective Reading: Kindergarten to Grade 3. Ch. 7        
  • MOE eworkshop.  (2014) http://eworkshop.on.ca/edu/core.cfm?L=1            
  • Puett Miller, C. (2014).  A Shared Experience:The Key to Effective Read Alouds. Education World.      

Check out this NY Times article on a 2014 Scholastic Survey on the benefits of reading to children of all ages: Study Finds Reading to Children of All Ages Grooms them to Read More on Their Own New York Times

 

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