Friday, January 29, 2010

Read aloud time

One of the areas in which I've been striving to make my teaching more thorough is our read aloud time. In our schedule, read aloud time is paired with science and social studies, and because my class has been so successful with science and science typically takes the bulk of the period, read aloud time has sometimes gotten the shaft. And while I've managed to read my students a whole lot of what I consider classic children's literature (including nearly everything by Kevin Henkes and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs before it became a movie), there's never been any kind of structure to our read alouds. I stop and model, we turn and talk, blah blah blah, but it's been lacking the substance I feel that read aloud time deserves.

So recently I showed my students how to set up their reading notebooks with "frames" in which they could stop and jot their thoughts during read aloud time. I modeled how when I was having a thought about what we were reading, I would stop and jot it in one of my frames, being sure to put the date inside the frame and the title on the top of the page. I modeled abbreviating the names of the characters and of my thinking (like "C" for a connection I was making). Then, as I read, I would stop and ask them a question: "What do you think will happen next?" or "How do you think this character is feeling right now?" and ask them to jot down their answers. Let me tell you, there is hardly a lovelier vision for a teacher than the sight of her 27 students bent over their notebooks, carefully scribing their thoughts instead of screaming them out for everyone to hear.

Now I'm easing them off the prompts -- I still ask them to stop and jot in response to a question, but I'm also encouraging them to jot whenever they have a thought instead of waiting for my direction. This way everyone is jotting at some point, but I've caught sight of Leah scribbling away and I know she's doing more than what's being asked. Since I ask a lot of predictable questions, some of my students have started jotting down their predictions and their thoughts before I ask.

What's really helped this to grow is that we've been consistently reading the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel. I adore Frog and Toad, and my students do too. The Frog and Toad stories are simple, funny, touching, and full of lovely little messages about friendship -- when Toad is sad because no one ever sends him any mail, Frog sits on the porch with him feeling sad too (before running home to write Toad a letter); when Frog tells Toad that he looks funny in his bathing suit, dignified Toad answers, "Of course I do," and marches home with his head held high. The characters are consistent, but never boring -- downtrodden Toad prefers the comfort of his warm bed, while adventurous Frog is always trying to get him up to enjoy the outdoors. Today I read "Down the Hill," in which Frog wants Toad to go sledding with him. Toad demurs, protesting that he has no winter clothes, but Frog is one step ahead of him: "'I have brought you some things to wear,' he said. Frog pushed a coat down over the top of Toad. Frog pulled snowpants up over the bottom of Toad. He put a hat and scarf on Toad's head. 'Help!' cried Toad. 'My best friend is trying to kill me!'"

By the time I got to the high point of the story -- in which Frog falls off the sled and Toad, unaware that Frog is no longer behind him helping him to steer, chatters on about how much he is actually beginning to enjoy winter, until he realizes that he is "ALL ALONE!" on the sled -- my class was in hysterics. What a sweet sound to start the weekend.


jwg said...

WHY OH WHY!!!! Can't listening to a book be about the joy of listening to the book? Why can't the kids get lost in the words, imagine the scene, hear the natural flow!Sure, a question or an explanation every once in a while is fine,as is an in-depth discussion afterwards, but authors don't write books so they can be read with constant interruptions. Like so many of the "new" reading methods this seems to be another that might raise test scores but may also destroy the love of reading.

miss brave said...

I am one hundred percent a believer in listening to stories just for the "love of reading," and we totally do this in my classroom as well. But part of being a reader -- and a reader who really LOVES reading -- is learning how to question, how to challenge, how to CONNECT with the text so it's not just lifeless words on the page. I don't pressure my students during this read aloud time, and I've been surprised and delighted by how much they actually LOVE to do it -- they love to jot down a prediction and then give themselves a little "check" if their prediction turns out to be right.

Am I going to expect them to do this with every single book we read? No. Jane Yolen's Owl Moon, for example, is so magical that kids SHOULD "get lost in the words." But I strongly believe that in the long run, this will make my readers more successful, because it challenges them to interact with the text. Sometimes we "talk to the characters" -- "Toad, what's the deal?" and that opened up a whole new world for them by bringing the characters to life.

I love to read, and I want my students to love to read, too. And one of the things that forges a lifelong connection with reading is not just listening to the words on the page but connecting with them. THAT's what I'm trying to accomplish -- not just raising test scores.

peace in the classroom said...
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peace in the classroom said...

Great post! I also really like using the four frames in the notebooks for stop and jots. It is so much less messy than post-its and you can really track progress. Also, the kids really do enjoy it. One thing that really helps me to see how my students are learning during read aloud is to purposely plan my prompts per frame. For example, frame 1 might be comprehension, frame 2 envisionment, frame 3 inference, frame 4 vocabulary etc. This way I can quickly see who is stronger and weaker in each of these areas.