Older Students, Pleasure Reading, Read-Alouds

Read Aloud.

Burro Genius by VIctor Villasenor

About five years ago I was laid off from LAUSD and, begrudgingly and against my better judgement, I took a job as a math teacher for a charter school.  I know! Don’t shoot me, I needed a job and they made themselves appear innovative, passionate and most importantly, engaging the school community in a love of learning.  Well after the first week I met my new students and I knew I’d been duped.  They were more than squirrely, they were disruptive, immature, distrusting, and mean..in other words completely off the wall most of the time and I had been led to believe it was my job to make them into “normal” people.  So I did the only thing that seemed to make sense, I started reading aloud to them.  I started with stories that were a little controversial, gritty and had lots of swear words; something to catch their attention and reel them in – I wanted words that would be both shocking and possibly cathartic to fill the room rather than the raucous chaos that had ensued for weeks leading up to my read-aloud realization.  After being called every name in the book and all but threatened physically, I was desperate for something to engage them.  The craziest part about it is it seemed to work.  Truly – students would hush up to listen to the words of Victor Villasenor talking about his days failing English class only to eventually become a published writer of fiction.  I made sure not to make it too lessony or ask students to over-analyze the texts.  I just wanted them to practice good listening technique and without much coercion, they settled right into it.  I don’t know what came over me, but something told me these kids needed to hear the words of someone who was not me, maybe more like them.

A few weeks later I was called back to my old job, and even though I had made this small headway, I returned with new insight: older kids like read-alouds too.  So as I contemplate my next move in starting a new school library at my adult school, I am reminded of the transformative power of read-alouds.  Kate Messner says that struggling readers have often lost their love for stories, but as teachers we have the power to give it back to them when we bring the story to life by reading it aloud.  If we just expect that they listen, and let the words wash over them without having to answer comprehension questions or take a test at the end, these students are reminded of the power that stories have: to escape, to transform, to nurture.  I now view read-alouds as a best practice in any classroom, but especially those with a greater proportion of struggling learners and readers; this would be every single classroom at my school.  We cater to those who want to reclaim their education, but have a lot of academic obstacles to overcome to make that happen.  How will I incorporate read-alouds into the library programming at the Skills Center?   

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