It’s Go Time!

Posted on September 19, 2011Filed Under Reading, Reading Aloud, The Outsiders | 10 Comments

Whoa baby, this is fun. The comments area has had a bit of controversy about my thing for reading Outsiders (or anything we read in class) aloud to my seventh graders. We got people saying they don’t like to be read to, we got people saying the book is predictable and Ponyboy annoying,  and that as far as I can tell, they find being read aloud to beneath them.

OK. It’s only really two people and me. But still, it gives me an opportunity to climb back up on my soapbox. (When will that metaphor go away? Answer: When people like me stop using it because we’re tired of explaining it to the young ‘uns.)

I guess it’s all in the delivery.

I Googled “reading aloud research middle school” just now.

(Here’s another one of my Asides: I swear I invented that word. Google as verb that is. I have proof…well, sort of:

Hi Mr. Coward!
I was in your 7th grade English class around the year 2000 or 2001 and now I’m about to graduate college. My little sister is now a student at Laguna and I told her that you were a great teacher and that you showed our class about the new search engine, GOOGLE! That was 11 years ago! Too bad my sister didn’t get you as her english teacher this year 🙁

This is from the guestbook on my class page. Granted, by itself it doesn’t prove that I used Google as a verb, but I know I used to say that almost as soon as I discovered Google.  Google  immediately supplanted AltaVista (anyone remember them?) as my search engine of choice way back then. You know how I am with slang and nicknames, and I would bet that this girl would vouch for me.)

Back to reading aloud. As I said, I Googled the topic, and I couldn’t find anything that disagreed with my contention that reading aloud to middle schoolers is good for them. Over and over again I saw the same thing:

“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”

And most things I have read say it should go all the way up through college. Go Google it for yourself. (Dang! I should have trademarked that. Or at least written it down.)

Remember though: It’s all in the delivery. It’s sort of like thinking that saying “Abra Cadabra” is the same as knowing how to do the trick. Wait, that was kind of cool, but not quite the right comparison. How about this one: You can make a good or a bad movie from the same book.

I think you all know what I’m talking about. I ain’t just reading. I am doing intonation and cadence and rhythm. I’m pausing and asking “probing” questions. I’m demonstrating KBAR responding techniques, and questions the kids should be asking themselves. I’m explaining jokes. (Almost none of them get Cherry’s gag, “I’m a night.” Neither do they get how Cherry is sparing Johnny’s feelings by interjecting, “16” when Marcia starts to say that both Pony and Johnny look 14. Even Two-Bit’s “pity the back seat gag” would fly right by them without explanation.) I’m explaining slang on the fly and playing with it.

“Fuzz? How do you get that for cop? Sorry…police officer.” And discussion ensues briefly.

And since I’ve only read this book some 100 times, I can pretty easily read aloud and watch the crowd at the same time. Actually, after all these years I can do that with all the stuff we read. I can catch kids spacing and herd them back, and move over by them and make sure they’re following along…all without losing my place or my rhythm. But that’s fairly rare. Usually they’re all locked in. My own boy would be one of those “advanced readers,” scoring 12+ on my little STAR reading test. I watch him every day out of the corner of my eye as I read. I like to keep watch on all the advanced reader to make sure they’re still with me too. No doubt rainbow trout. He’s hooked just like the rest.

Now granted, this is sort of one of those things where I couldn’t really take my own medicine. I absolutely hate being read to. But I figure I’m one of the exceptions that prove the rule. In 19 years of reading this book out loud to my seventh graders, I don’t think I could name a single kid who complained or whose parent complained. They beg for it every day, even the good readers.

Long ago, when I was doing my very first student teaching, I watched a good teacher mesmerize a class of seventh graders reading, of all things, The Old Man and the Sea. OMG, I thought, if you can get them reading OMATS (as we used to call it) and liking it, there must be something here. Unfortunately at the time, I did not have the necessary chops to do the same

Maybe it’s all in the delivery.


10 Responses to “It’s Go Time!”

  1. Janay on September 19th, 2011 9:32 pm

    Oh, it’s the delivery. I read aloud to my 7th graders too. Whenever I have a sub and the sub reads to them, they beg me to reread the same portion over again the next day because the “sub didn’t do it right” and “we didn’t get it”! They miss so much because they don’t have the emotional or social maturity to pick up on how a character would have said/sounded delivering a certain line or the emotions behind a character’s words.

    I do the read with one eye on the book and one on the class too. It freaks them out when I catch them looking at me and I lock eyes with them for a few seconds and can keep reading (reciting from memory) at the same time.

  2. Meg on September 20th, 2011 12:25 am

    I’m a HUGE supporter of read aloud, but the delivery is super important. Like watching a movie, if the actor can’t pull it off it doesn’t matter HOW good the plot is, it all falls flat.

  3. Mrs. M on September 20th, 2011 4:53 am

    I should have been clearer in my previous post. I am a huge believer in reading aloud–I do it every day with my 8th graders. Just not with the class novel we are reading. I read aloud children’s books, excerpts, etc. I read a segment from ‘The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle’ every day, and once we get through that, I move on to mini-horror stories–great way to end the year! Reading aloud to kids at any age is a great thing. My beef was with reading The Outsiders aloud and not letting them go ahead if they want.

    Yay, controversy! 🙂

  4. Mr. M on September 20th, 2011 8:59 am

    I am a huge proponent of reading aloud, actually just finishing reading The Outsiders to my 8th grade class. I love looking out over my book and seeing the pain in their eyes as they listen to Johnny’s last words and the anger in Dally’s voice as he storms out…I could go on and on.

    What I struggle with sometimes is how much I read aloud. My students seem to “get it” the most when I am reading aloud, but I also know that they need to improve their reading skills by reading by themselves.

    I am very interested in how you juggle the load of reading aloud and students reading to themselves? Any great insight would be much appreciated.

  5. mrC on September 21st, 2011 7:40 pm

    @ Mr. M – I did a double-take at first because I saw your username as MRS M, and I thought Mrs. M was gong nutty on me or something. 😉 Also we don’t exactly get a lot of male commenters around these parts. Welcome! I can’t believe you can read that part aloud. In fact, the only part of The Outsiders that I DON’T read to them is from where Dally and Pony get to the hospital through the end of chapter 10. I tear up even now. Plus, it’s more fun to watch them sniffle through it on their own. As far as your question… I pretty much read everything to them in class, and use that time to show them techniques for reading and for responding to testing. The only time other than the above where they would read silently in class would be if I wanted to either watch them to see what they do when they think they’re reading, or to practice the read the piece, answer the questions thing for state testing. I also test/practice their silent reading skills with the directions to warm ups and such.That is also a HUGE weakness in the seventh grade psyche: reading and following directions… or even noticing that there ARE directions to read and follow. I try to do a lot of silent instruction giving.

  6. Mrs. M~ on September 22nd, 2011 12:29 pm

    FYI – Mr. M is no relation. I did a double-take too; thought my split personality was showing. 🙂

  7. Mrs S on September 24th, 2011 1:46 pm

    I read The Outsiders aloud to my 8th graders last year and they LOVED it! I did manage to get through the whole thing, but parts were definitely hard!

    This year I moved to a different school and am teaching 9th & 10th grade. I’m reading to my 9th graders and as soon as I find the right book, I’m going to read to my 10th graders. Nothing builds community like reading aloud.

  8. Mr. M on September 27th, 2011 11:48 am

    I am relatively new to this blog so you may have approached this subject before, but I am struggling with another teacher in my school. We are both 8th grade teachers and we have some differing philosophies, but we are expected to use the same assessments. That is all fine and well, but recently we have ran into some more disagreements.

    The other teacher, lets call her Mrs. D, has been assigning students 140 pages to read a week out of their free reading book. They have to write the page numbers down on a notecard and it is turned in once a week. I, meanwhile, feel like assigning 140 pages a week is exorbitant, especially for my reluctant readers. I do a status of the class where I ask each student what page they are on every Thursday. If they have read 25 or more pages, they get their 2 points. I believe that the reluctant readers are far less likely to be put off by the 25 pages and are far less likely to have to lie to get their grade. I also do a quarterly book project each quarter where the students have to respond to one of the books that they have read that quarter. Parents of students of Mrs. D’s are hearing that their students have far less expectaions than Mr. M’s and parents are starting to complain.

    My question is: Do you assign out of class reading and if so, how much and how do you assess it? Any advice would be very helpful as I try to come to a compromise with the other teacher.

  9. Sarah on February 3rd, 2012 8:43 am

    I just came across your blog…I am a second year teacher and I am currently reading The Outsiders aloud to my seventh graders. I read it to them last year, too. I catch a lot of criticism for reading it to them…but they LOVE to have me read to them. I actually had a group of boys run down the hall to reading class because “they just couldn’t wait to start reading that book.” They get such a kick out of the reflections of my voice and the dramatic ways I interperet parts of it. I actually work up tears when I am reading Cherry’s dialogue in the vacant lot after Bob dies. And when I get emotional about the events that transpire toward the ends…they see that I am more than their crazy English teacher, but I’m human, too. They learn so much more about themselves and their worlds and opening their world-view to something outside of themselves from reading this book and discussing it with their classmates than they would if they just read it to themselves. I think reading to kids is important at any age and I will defend it to my death. I’m glad to know someone else is doing the same thing.

  10. mrC on February 3rd, 2012 3:35 pm

    @Sarah-Most excellent! Keep up the good work, and don’t let any of them talk you out of it. Glad to hear your kids recognize the value too. Fight the good fight!

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