I was one of those really anxious kids who experienced the school day as a social and emotional cage fight. Relief did not come till the very end of the day, when my teacher read aloud to us.
For twenty glorious minutes, I escaped the noise, insults, girl drama, numbing repetition and ruthless competition, to slide into other glorious worlds, where chocolate factories were given to deserving orphans, and little girls slept in covered wagons on the open prairie, miles from any school.
As I was meeting with Tim Walker, the administrator at the school where we volunteer, to set up our tutoring program this year, he said, “Whatever else you do, just read aloud to them. They need to hear books read well. They need reading to be fun. Even if you don’t do anything else, just read to them.”
I didn’t know when I was listening, entranced, to James and the Giant Peach, that my vocabulary was being built, that grammar structures were being embedded in my brain, that my mind’s capacity to create visual images was growing and that I was developing increased capacity to focus and calm myself, but it was all happening nevertheless. (For a research summary go to http://www.readingrockets.org/research/read-aloud.) Being read to by my mother and my early teachers made it easy for me to learn to read – I was devouring “Little Women” and heavy tomes about dinosaurs by the time I was seven.
So, for these and many other reasons, we start our tutoring time by reading aloud to children. We read as smoothly, thoughtfully and with as much expression as we can. We give them permission to interrupt us and ask us what words mean. We let them hold the books, turn the pages, and follow along the words with their fingers as we read, so their attention stays on the text and they effortlessly learn to spell.
With little children, we read most of the text to them, but stop every few sentences at a word they already know to let them read it out loud.
Reading out loud serves as a good way to start the session, modelling the process and giving the child an overview of the material. It is also a great incentive to hold over kids who may be tired or unfocused – promise to read them something they are interested in if they finish their work before the end of the session.
A recent survey (http://www.scholastic.com/readingreport/reading-aloud.htm) revealed that while 62% of parents of three to five year-olds read to them often, that number has dropped to 38% for six to eight year-olds, and to only 17% for nine to eleven year-olds. But older kids still love to be read to! It is one of the most pleasant and helpful things we can do for a child, and we get to enjoy the story too!