Literacy Beginnings - Chapter 11

Chapter Eleven of Literacy Beginnings, Using Interactive Read-Aloud to Support Emergent Readers, goes deeper into the cornerstone of any early childhood classroom, reading aloud. The opening line of the chapter sums up the importance of the task at hand beautifully, ‘Reading aloud to children is the best way we know to teach them to love books.’ (Page 114)

This is a long and important chapter. I’ve tried to be brief and not too academic in my summary, but I apologize in advance if I’ve failed on either account.

As with all areas of academics and social skills, children enter our classrooms with a variety of experiences. Luckily, even those with limited exposure to books can catch up quickly when the read-alouds are engaging and frequent. Some key points teachers need to remember when planning read-alouds (summarized from page 114):
  • Read-alouds should happen at least once a day, two to three times if possible.
  • Plan read-alouds thoughtfully, don’t just grab whatever book is closest (there is a nice table, Text Characteristics to Consider in Selecting Books to Read Aloud on page 117)
I have to comment on the first point briefly. My kindergarten program is full day, so I have my sprouts for about seven hours. It is not unusual for us to read five, six, even seven books aloud a day. Don’t let the numbers sway you from using literature at every moment possible. I use books to start lessons, prompt writing ideas, enrich math, science, and social studies, and as a way to settle down my group.

Selecting Texts to Read Aloud

The authors encourage teachers to select simple texts without complex themes as these might bore or confuse younger listeners. I have to agree. I’ve made the mistake in my own classroom of choosing a book that appealed to me for emotional reasons only to find the exact themes that drew me to the book were lost on my class. That being said, towards the end of kindergarten, I’ve had a lot of success with books that tell a simple story and explore deeper themes (such as my new favorite, The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen).

The book reminds teachers to include different types of books such as poems, songs, rhymes, wordless books, and non-fiction and informational texts. They also include an extensive list of books with relating themes that would interest emergent readers. I had a slight laugh when they mentioned Bill Martin’s Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (page 116). This book, introduced to my class the first week of kindergarten is always a class favorite. Most of my sprouts memorized the alphabet book and were able to read and sing it over and over. The video version was a huge hit and provided that critical link between music and text.

Interactive Read-Aloud Routines

Starting off with the basics (all children sitting on the floor, looking at you, etc.) this section is really a primer for newer teachers. It’s a good reminder of what I like to call ‘Good Listener’ behaviors. I frequently use the “turn and talk’ strategy explained briefly on page 118. Quite simply, by having the children turn and talk to a neighbor about a question you pose, it allows everyone to be heard and more shy students to think and process a reply before contributing with the entire group.

Using Interactive Read-Aloud as a Teaching Approach

Ah, here it is, the meat of why we read aloud to children. In an effort to keep my write up brief (I fear I’ve failed miserably already), here are the basic components of using your read-alouds effectively. (Page 119)

  1. Plan opening remarks.
  2. Stop to invite quick comments during reading
  3. Discuss text after reading
  4. Plan and engaging, related activity following reading (art, writing, drawing, cooking).
Here are my thoughts on how I approach each of the corresponding above in my classroom.
  1. After hearing more than a few sprouts exclaim, “I read that book already!” I learned a new way to introduce a book from a colleague – “What do you know about this book?” This invites children who are familiar with a text to participate and not feel like they’ve ‘seen and heard it all before’.
  2. It takes time as a teacher to develop a good balance between stopping to discuss and interrupting the ‘flow’ of a story. Sometimes I find myself leaning too much towards discussing the book with my class and it negatively impacts the enjoyment of the book. Be careful. Find the balance.
  3. We always have a conversation after completing a story. Often (at least in my room) time seems to evaporate and when I finish a book and look up at the clock, panic sets in. At the very least, I ask everyone “What did you think of the book?” They reply with a thumbs up or thumbs down. Usually we have more involved conversations, but sometimes time just runs out.
  4. Oh the crafts! I have self-diagnosed craft-phobia. I see the teachers around me do crafts with their class day after day, piling up paper, glue, glitter, pom-poms, and a plethora of other materials. My one piece of advice to early childhood educators on this topic – don’t feel you must ‘out craft’ your peers. Sometimes a simple drawing and sentence reaction shows more about a child’s understanding than you could have guessed. A whole group activity (acting out a story, making a Venn Diagram comparing it to another book, etc.) can be just as engaging and insightful.  Also – doing less crafts means less prep work for me and when we do make something (usually once or twice a week) the kids think they’ve been given candy and soda.  
One simple craft activity I do each year is creating stick puppets and a setting (including all the key story elements - three bowls, chairs, and beds) for Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  We read many versions of the story and compare and contrast them with the original.  This project usually takes at least a week to complete.  We practice alone, in pairs, and groups.  We use it during parent conferences to demonstrate our retelling abilities.

A strategy for older children – sometimes I like to give my class something to think about while I read. During my opening remarks, I might pose a question and then we talk about it after reading. This often involves deeper comprehension strategies and higher level thinking (Sequence – “What happened first?” Conflict – “What was the problem in the story?” – “What was the solution?” etc.) I like to preview such questions before reading. It helps keep listeners engaged and thinking while we read.

Don't forget to 'earn your Oscar' - a phrase I coined when I began teaching kindergarten.  If you sit there and read the book like you're about to fall asleep, nobody (even four and five-year-olds) are going to buy it.  You have to give in and let yourself enjoy the book.  Use voices!  Read with feeling?  After all, you're competing with the latest Nintendo DS game, the local amusement park, and the latest 3D movie. That book has to spring to life when you read... 'EARN YOUR OSCAR' - at this point, I've got a cabinet full.

At this point, I also have to mention a book by a new literacy guru I’ve discovered - Comprehension Connections by Tanny McGregor. In the book, comprehension strategies are taught using concrete objects to anchor children’s understanding of more abstract ideas. It’s a wonderful book and I will be using many of her activities next year in my classroom!

Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading

At this point, I fear I may have lost many of you with my lengthy write up. The chapter concludes with ideas of book activities (character puppets, dramatic retellings, art links, etc.) and encourages rereading favorite texts and providing a spot in your room for displaying books you’ve read. This can encourage children to retell familiar stories using the pictures and eventually words.

I’ll sum up the chapter with the quote from page 114.

 “Reading aloud is the foundation of literacy.” – Don Holdaway

How do you use read-alouds?  What tips or tricks to you employ?

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Margaret said...

Great review of Chapter 11. I love Read Alouds. I can't wait to do more with popsicle puppets. What an easy and effective way to assess comprehension! (And fun!)

Eilis said...

Great discussion of a great topic! One fun follow up activity this year involved the book Who Took the Cookie...by Philemon Sturges. I always read it in a sing songy kind of voice and we do a pocket chart activity with it. The kids were very interested in the sheet music inside the cover. So, we took it to the music teacher and asked her to play the music on her piano. Big Hit.

Jeanne said...

The authors write that reading aloud is the best way to teach children to love books, and I completely agree. I present stories as my favorite part of the day, and most often, it is. It was useful to consider "the role of conversation in connection with literature". You posed two great ideas about this, 1) don't loose the interest and flow of the story with too much talk, and 2) (my favorite) asking what do you KNOW about this book." I can't wait to ask that question!

Often when reading aloud, if the story has repetion, I like to pause and let the children say the words they know are coming. It alwyas thrills them to participate. Also, I like to pause and let them predict what will happen next. After a story, they enjoy telling what was their favorite part, and we turn back to that page to talk about it.

Tracy said...

Great discussion. one thing I like to do with repetition or rhyme books after several reading is change the text. The kids love pointing out you made a mistake and it also lets them hear another word that can rhyme or make sense.

Mama2Nico said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mama2Nico said...

Once again Matt, I think I need to move to Maine so you can be Nico's kindergarten teacher. We love to read together, and shortly after he started walking he began bringing me a book when he wanted me to read it to him. Not just at bedtime, but during the day :) Even though he's not completely talking yet (he just says words and not sentences), we can interact together while reading a book. It's priceless.

Vanessa @pre-kpages said...

I agree with the "out-crafting", it often becomes a contest I don't like to participate in, I prefer to put up authentic work from the children. I LOVE your "earn your Oscar" statement- it is so true!
Keep up the good work :)

Christina said...

Great discussion.......
non voice projects