Monday, October 14, 2013

When You Reach Me as a Read Aloud

Read alouds are awesome. If you disagree, you probably don't like ice cream or laughter, either.

I do read alouds in class for a lot of reasons. The primary one being that books are great and should be shared with others. They say something about who we are and through them we learn about ourselves while expanding our ability to understand and empathize with others. I also do read alouds to model reading fluency, vocal tones, and inflection as a storyteller/narrator. Lastly, but not least(ly?), read alouds help me and my students discover new books. As lonely an activity as reading can be, discovering a great book alongside its intended target audience is something I wish I could share with everyone.

Last year, I read my fifth graders WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead. If you are into middle grade and haven't read it, I suggest you stop reading this blog and fix that. It goes without saying the kids liked it a lot, but I saw more than just a passing entertainment at work. The book contains a lot of complex layers for a middle grade contemporary (until the SF kicks in) novel.

One, it keeps the reader attentive. I introduced the book by telling the kids it was science fiction, but they wouldn't see that aspect at first. Some of them who listened closely and watched for clues might pick up on it earlier than others.

Two, there is mystery, but not the way you think. It lends itself to repeat readings. I often see kids rereading books less out of love for its story and more because they're convinced every other book stinks in comparison (DIARY OF A WIMPY KID FANS, I'm talking about you!). WHEN YOU REACH ME practically begs to be reread just so you can see Stead building the scaffolding a piece at a time. Leading the kids along the way without giving a single bit away was amazing.

Granted, I had to move slow at times. The beginning of the book makes it unclear where exactly it's going, so we spent a lot of time retelling and laying out each cause and effect relationship. Building background about the eighties, most notably the $25,000 Pyramid, took time, every second of it worth it. Kids occasionally would get left behind and, as a group, we'd bring them up to speed, filling in gaps they missed.

It ended up being a perfect example of how a read aloud can bring one aspect of the classroom to life. Engaged students, enthusiastic readers, and a teacher who's having fun doing something that has absolutely nothing to do with Common Core standards or standardized testing. Joy.

Now here's the question -- will it work with fourth grade this year?