Teachers need to be motivated to search, explore and read more widely to bring a wider range of texts to students when reading aloud in the classroom, according to literacy experts Sharon and Phil Callen.
Read Alouds are a significant factor in the development of literacy levels in young children.
“Improving comprehension and reading development, they’re the very things that our students gain or children gain from quality Read Alouds, but they are also a really big piece for intervention,” Sharon said in episode 10 of The Teacher’s Tool Kit for Literacy.
“We really should be encouraging and supporting teachers to read to students with greater frequency throughout all of primary school. But we wouldn’t say just primary, would we say right through secondary. In fact, there are many studies done about the importance of the Read Aloud in secondary schools, and not even with a whole lot of analysis, just being read to brings us a whole lot of real richness.”
When selecting books to read aloud, Sharon firstly explained the importance of teachers making a connection with the book prior to introducing them to the classroom.
“We build that up that knowledge over time of the books that we’re reading, because we can only really bring books to our students, especially as Read Alouds, that we have read and loved ourselves. Because without that, we don’t know what we’re bringing [or] why are we bringing it. We don’t have to know everything this is going to bring to children, but we have to be invested in it,” she said.
Sharon added that this knowledge can also enable teachers to recommend books to students they may not have considered previously.
“As the teacher, we want to be the one that our kids can come to and say ‘what next?’ And for us as the teacher, to have knowledge enough to say, ‘why don’t you try this?’ And when we’ve really built that repertoire of knowledge and experience with books, they too will trust us,” she said.
But choosing books to read aloud shouldn’t be left to the teacher alone. Rebecca Bird, a literature consultant at Pegi Williams Bookshop, recommended empowering children by allowing them to be involved in the choice of what they want to read, and ensuring they are represented and therefore engaged in the text.
“It’s becoming popular to pick a group of kids, particularly year levels, or if you know that the Year 6 & 7’s aren’t engaged or the Year 3 & 4’s are not really knowing what to read anymore, I can go out and talk to those groups of kids. I take a massive amount of books with me, and then they’re involved in the choosing. So they’ve got a bit of ownership,” Rebecca said.
Sharon added: “It’s about the child. Where’s the child with this? What are their interests? What’s right for them next? By asking them, that’s a really important part of that. I think what we sometimes forget is that part of students thinking about how to select books is to think for themselves about what am I interested in? What do I like? What am I looking for?”
Furthermore, teachers should seek to understand the types of texts their students are already interested in, in order to make better recommendations and read aloud decisions.
“I think the hardest thing is probably middle primary. Kids love books because of the authors, and I think the biggest challenge is to find something else from there. And that’s why I always ask, ‘what is it about that book you liked? What part of the story or what elements?’ So then if you can find that element in another book, they’re more willing to try something completely different,” Rebecca said.
“I think a teacher does, in a perfect world, need to be a reader to do that, because I do think the only way you can do this is to know what’s out there.
“You can’t let kids think they’ve made bad choices. So if they keep choosing Captain Underpants, you can’t make them feel bad about that. But the teacher can read a Captain Underpants book, figure out what it is and why the child might like it and then work on that. So you don’t have to read the whole thing, but if you read a little bit of everything that the kids in your class are reading, then you’ve got more ideas of what they’re reading and you think, ‘okay, well, if they like that, then maybe we can try this’.”
Rebecca also encouraged teachers to not shy away from reading aloud different genres, such as verse novels.
“A genre that I really like that I know a lot of people are hesitant to go towards is a verse novels … I think for kids that are less engaged in reading to convince them to read a verse novel, because if you open up a verse novel, it looks like a book of poetry. But [then] you realise that each of those is like a little chapter and it’s actually telling you a story,” she said.
“[That’s] the heart of the story. I think it just gives you all the feelings and all the emotion, and it connects you really closely to the characters, and verse novels tend to write from different perspectives.”
Finally, Rebecca enforced the idea that it’s okay for both teachers and students to not finish a book if it doesn’t feel right.
“Now that I’m older and there’s only so much time in your life, life is too short to read something if you’re not enjoying it. So give it another chance, but don’t feel bad if you don’t finish it because it’s just not the right book for you right now.”