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.

Tags: arounds, comprehension, development, popcorn, read, reading, strategies, vocabulary

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I disagree w/ Mr. Peck (who has written two of my favorite novels: Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder). I teach 5th grade, and I read aloud to my students every day for 15-ish minutes. Voices, accents, everything.
Are they listening? Absolutely! The laugh at the right times. They groan when I (intentionally) stop right before the climax of a scene. This is usually one of the things my former students recall as one of their favorite memories of my class.
There is a place for read aloud.

I respect Mr. Peck as an author, and I truly hope his perspective has nothing to do with one teacher buying a single copy versus 30 students buying 30 copies.
This analysis is quite limited. One might argue that students don't pick up as much vocabulary with read-alouds but the surely pick up other very important reading skills and, as an mentioned above, increased motivation to be involved in the story. Students today are often not exposed to much reading at home and therefore reading skills we take for granted such as pacing and giving voice to characters is lost. If reading is going to matter to students they need those skills - not to even mention pronunciation.

To say it has something to do with the teacher's ego is ridiculous. You offer zero evidence of that claim.
As a teacher you need to think about what are your learning aims for read alouds. If nothing else, you should be a good model of fluency and expression for the children. Poor readers, from non reading families do not often get that model example. Furthermore, most teachers I know do not simply read aloud the book. It is instinctive to stop and talk about certain vocabulary words, plot twists, character traits, themes or whatever. Using 'think alouds' with your 'read alouds' expounds the value of the exercise. Lastly, read alouds give the teacher the opportunity to expose children to a variety of genres that they may not previously have considered reading themselves. They can help open up new doors to unknown books, authors or subjects.
I agree. Students need the modeling. When I read, we do stop and talk about all kinds of things, from vocabulary to critical thinking. We predict what is going to happen based on what has happened.

As students get older and go from "learning to read" to "reading to learn," those students with difficulty reading aren't going to get the same out of a lesson they're struggling to read as a student who reads well and can pick up everything else. If you can't read half the words in a paragraph, are you really going to remember what a paragraph said?

Besides, hearing someone else who loves to read helps foster a love of reading. Nine times out of 10, my students who are good readers and love to read are the ones whose parents have read to them from an early age.



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