This month’s newsletter from Notes from the Horn Book (Volume 2, Number 9) has quite a controversial statement from author Richard Peck. In an interview titled “Five Questions for Richard Peck,” Mr. Peck is asked this question: “You talk a lot with young readers. What are they telling you?” His response?
"Things they didn’t mean to. Over and over they’re telling me that the books I wrote for them to read are being read to them by their teachers. And hearing a story read doesn’t seem to expand their vocabularies. If a teacher is going to take limited classroom time in reading aloud (and even giving away the ending), the least she could do is hand out a list of vocabulary from the reading to be looked up and learned."
I think Mr. Peck has a valid point re: our over-reliance on read-alouds, apologies to the Jim Trelease fan club. Mr. Peck's seems to argue that lack of independent student reading inhibits vocabulary acquisition. As a reading specialist, I would certainly agree with the author that reading along with the teacher does not allow the student-reader sufficient time to access context clues for unknown vocabulary nor use resources, e.g. a dictionary, to accomplish this task. Thus, vocabulary development suffers. However, there is a broader issue that this controversy addresses.
As ELA teachers, we struggle with the balance between teacher-dependent and independent reading. Much of the struggle, I think, comes from control issues. We want to be the “sages on the stages” and we want to control what students learn (and what they do not). Some of the struggle may also involve why many of us became ELA teachers in the first place. We love literature and we want to share in the experience with our students. We don’t love the tough work of teaching the reading and vocabulary strategies that will turn students into life-long independent readers nearly as much. My thought is that we need to be working ourselves out of our jobs each day.