Nature and Books belong to the eyes that see them.
--Emerson

Reading Aloud by Proxy

I am a firm believer in the power of reading aloud to children (see Books That Changed My Life - Part 1). In fact, I read to my students every single morning before I even take attendance or say the flag salute. I want to build a love of reading for pleasure. I am convinced that reading aloud to children is the single most powerful practice adults can do for children learning to read. Unfortunately, not all parents read aloud to their children at home. What to do?

This year, I was blessed once again to teach a reading intervention class (and, no, I am not being sarcastic in using “blessed”). My students are struggling readers, nearly all of whom entered the class reading two or more years below grade level (they are all 6th graders). As I do every year at some point, I asked the students whether or not their parents read to or have ever read to them at home. Not surprisingly, most of them (usually somewhere around 90% of them) say that, no, they have never been read to on a regular basis. Also not surprisingly, at the beginning of the year, most of them do not like to read. THIS is why I read to them at school.

Unfortunately, I cannot go home with them to read to them there, also. And even though I appeal to parents to do so, virtually none of them ever do because they have not ever done and many of them struggle with reading themselves.

So this year, I decided to try something new. I have hundreds of books in my classroom library, but many of them were just too hard for my students to enjoy. I began buying audiobook versions of books to go along with hardbound or paperback copies I had in my library. But, I only chose books that were higher than my students could read on their own. I also bought a bunch of really inexpensive CD players and MP3 devices. I put the audiobooks on CDs and on the MP3 players and put labels on the books that had audio versions. I allowed students to check out the books and players and I even let them take the players home. The results, in some cases, were inspiring!

Students began choosing novels over picture books. Book series that had lain fallow on my shelves for months began circulating wildly through the classroom. After having the first Judy Moody book “read aloud to them” (in the form of an MP3), a bunch of students tore through the all the titles I had then began hounding the school librarian for all her titles! A boy who “hated reading” at the beginning of the year began reading the Boxcar Children series after the first book was “read aloud” to him. Now, these are by no means “grade level” choices for a 6th grader, but before this, these students had not read any “chapter books” all the way through on their own!

Some students even began reading books higher than their current reading levels. One girl who has been in reading remediation classes for three years running and has never enjoyed reading had The Bad Beginning “read to her” on CD. She got so into it, she immediately asked for the second book when she finished the first. She had to ask me for it because all my Series of Unfortunate Events books are stashed away on a separate bookshelf that holds the 5th and 6th grade novels since, previously, no one was able to read them independently. I did not really have confidence that she would actually read the whole second book on her own since I knew she had never read anything more challenging than a Horrible Harry book before (RL 3). I am happy to report that my doubt was shattered! A couple weeks later, she returned the book and asked to take an Accelerated Reader test on it. She passed with 90%! On a book that has a 6th grade reading level! She has worked her way through my titles and started getting them from the school library. She is currently on book 5 and has consistently scored 90%-100% on AR tests. And now her two closest friends in class have jumped on the Unfortunate bandwagon!

I am greatly heartened by the results I have seen. I still wish that these students’ parents would read to them at home, but if I am able to make this kind of a difference, I will gladly continue reading aloud to them, in person and by proxy!

(Last modified:02/19/2012)

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