Monday, July 17, 2017

The Importance of Reading Out Loud to Older Students (and Book Titles to Get You Started)

“But I don’t like to read.” “Reading is boring.” “Is there going to be a test on this book?” Phrases like these were becoming all too common in my high school classroom. I realized a love for literature was often missing in students within this age group. Not all students, but a lot of them. I tried to find answers as to where, when, and how this happened. Was it having to read too many books for programs like Accelerated Reading? Was it because they didn’t know how to pick a book that caught their specific interest? The list of possibilities continued. Until I stopped and looked at my own children. Why do my kids like books? This simple question brought out the answer to my problem. Parents and elementary teachers are reminded over and over about the importance of reading out loud to their children/students. And chances are, as adults we remember those books that our elementary teachers read out loud to us. I specifically remember The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Pippy Longstocking, along with many others. There is something about the read aloud that brings the story to life and helps developing readers become invested in literature. Now think about how many books were read to us as teenagers. Probably very few, if any. As a teenager we are supposed to know how to read. And 99% of the time, students do understand the words they are reading. However, through my own investigation, I found that students truly forgot HOW to read.

Reading had become a job. They lifelessly scanned the pages, trying to find answers. The books they did like to read didn’t provide much of a moral lesson or were just about vampires and supernatural creatures. And whenever they read out loud, the emotion was completely gone. I knew I had to reteach them HOW to read, so they could expand their love for literature. And the best way to do that, was reading out loud to them. I had to show them how to use emotion in reading to bring the story to life.

I realized the read aloud was the answer to my problem when I started reading Never Fall Down, written by Patricia McCormick. This book is a biographical novel about a boy named Arn Chorn-Pond. As a young boy, Arn became a victim of the Khmer Rouge during the Cambodian Genocide. (I personally had never learned about the Cambodian Genocide of the 1970s. Very few of my students had either.) I read about 5-10 minutes at the beginning of each of my 10th grade classes. I told them that there wasn’t going to be a test over this; I just wanted them to listen and participate in our discussions. Simple as that. At the end of the first week, I thought about what I observed in these classes. Almost every day, the students were disappointed when I shut the book. They begged to read just a little bit more. While I was reading, every student’s eyes were on me. They all, even my most struggling students, had so many opinions about the book and the situation the main character found himself in. The same reaction happened daily for the almost two months it took us to finish it.

At the end of the book I gave the students a chance to write a letter to the Arn Chorn-Pond or to just jot down a little reflection about the book. Almost all of the students wrote page-long letters about how moved they were by the book. They were recalling specific details that even I had forgotten. They even influenced the World History teacher to discuss other genocides in the world. And further evidence came when I saw other biographical novels in the hands of my students.

And chances are, if you ask those students to tell you one thing they remember about my class, it will be that book. Giving up 5-10 minutes of my class for a couple of months was the most beneficial thing I could have done for those kids. They not only learned an important event in history, but also learned how powerful a book can be if they allow themselves to bring it to life.

So as we get ready to go back to school, remember that high school students do have that love for literature that our younger students have. We might just have to show them how to find it again. Try the read aloud. I promise you won’t be disappointed in the results.

***Update on July 17, 2017***

I continue to believe in reading out loud to high school students, and after teaching a junior high class this year, found that they loved it just as much. I thought I would update this post with some other books I have found to be amazing read alouds for junior high and high school classrooms.

Junior High:
*Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
This is a story of a young girl that has severe cerebral palsy and is nonverbal. It is told from her point of view as she struggles to show the world her intelligence. The students absolutely loved this book. We had great talks about empathy during this read aloud.

*Memories of Anne Frank: Reflections of a Childhood Friend by Alison Leslie Gold
This story is told from Hannah Goslar, Anne Frank's best friend from childhood. It relives the day Hannah thought Anne and her family had run away and tells of Hannah's journey through the Holocaust (which involves seeing Anne in a concentration camp late in the war).
This story was great for my 7th graders that were learning about the Holocaust in their ELA class.

*Lion: A Long Way Home Young Readers' Edition by Saroo Brierley
I just read this book and will definitely read it to my 7th grade enrichment class this school year. It was such a captivating story that will help my students realize all of the dangers a lot of young children face in other countries.

*Hidden Figures Young Readers' Edition by Margot Lee Shetterly
This is another book I picked up this summer with the read aloud in mind. It did not disappoint. The students love listening to nonfiction, and this story is so important to the history of our nation.

High School:
*Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick: This story is described above. (There is some language I altered while reading out loud, and because of the harsh conditions, I would use this book for 10th grade and above.)

*Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
I read this story to 9th and 10th graders. They were able to make a lot of connections to the things they were learning in their American history class. This was a captivating story that really provided some cross-curricular discussions.

*I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Readers' Edition) by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick
This book could be used for either junior high or high school. I used it for 8th and 9th graders. The young readers' edition keeps the kids interest and shows them the importance of education and standing up for what you believe.