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.