Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Power of the Read Aloud Goes Way Beyond the Primary Grades

During the 2004/2005 school year I had the extraordinary opportunity to meet and hear the world renowned illustrator Wendell Minor speak to the 6th graders I was teaching. A dear friend and colleague organized his presentation at the school. Having a passion for and deep roots in the arts I am always drawn to beautifully illustrated books, but this was the first time I was to hear in person, from the primary source, what the process was like to bring words to life. What I took from this experience was nothing short of an epiphany.

Like many teachers, I came to the profession with a desire to smooth out the bumps I felt as a student. I have learned through my own academic challenges, that one of my strengths in life is having some insight into how people acquire knowledge. Having struggled to learn to read myself, and figuring out how to harness my own hyperactive idiosyncrasies, I have found it easy to empathize with others. When I heard Wendell speak he seemed to be speaking to me as a learner not an educator. Ironically, that year  and this experience happened when I was home in Rhode Island, teaching in the same middle school I went to as a 6th grader. I was miserable as a student there, but found myself as a whole person there while I taught. Things do really come around full circle.

Wendell Minor's message to the students was persevere. He overcame a learning disability to become the successful man he is today. A boy who grappled with dyslexia made his mark on the literary world as an adult. His message to the teachers - Wendell credited his teachers who read aloud to the class. He related that by listening to the stories, he knew that even though he didn't feel confident he could read those books on his own yet, that other worlds, adventures and knowledge awaited him when he could.

Reading aloud is profoundly beneficial to kids of all ages, even in high school and beyond. It takes the pressure of performing off  for a little while and allows them to fully enjoy a great story. The conversations that will ensue will bond you, deepen your understanding of the literature and each other.

One of my proudest moments of teaching was having a bunch of rough and tough 6th graders, already jaded by hard lives, cry and laugh with me through reading Old Yeller. They broke out into round of applause when I turned the last page. I know only a few of them had ever finished a novel before that.

Thank you Mr. Minor and Donna Berg for facilitating and deepening my love of the read aloud!

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