There was a time when a great deal of time in school was spent on reading – and even singing – aloud, in turn, around the class. I remember well the feeling of dread as my turn drew nearer. Many a child was made to feel humiliated in front of his or her peers, and generally speaking, time marched very slowly. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, spoken haltingly by embarrassed thirteen year-olds over the course of an entire school year is probably not how Shakespeare had envisaged it. Little wonder then that over the past three decades the practice has fallen out of fashion, and children are rarely asked to read aloud beyond the early years of primary school. Which is a great pity, because it is only by reading or speaking aloud that we can truly understand, or demonstrate an understanding, of the written word. I was reminded of this recently when re-reading one of my favourite writers, Hanif Kureishi, in an essay enitled Dreaming and Scheming – Reflections on Teaching and the Writing Life, where he describes one of his writers’ workshops:-
“In the hope of dissipating some of the self-consciousness, I play a few standing-up ‘name’ games, where people introduce themselves. Then we run about a bit, before sitting down to play some word games. Whatever you do at the beginning it will always take a few weeks for people to begin to feel at ease for them to be able to speak to each other about their writing or to read it aloud.”
Developing oral skills in young people takes time and patience, but it can also be fun. New technologies, such as MP3 players and – even better – simple hand-held video cameras and smartphones, make it so much easier for us to encourage children to read and playback the written word, to enjoy the pleasure of language and to reflect on their own performance, without the embarrassment of reading aloud in front of the whole class. Yet sadly, one of the unintended consequences of target-setting and data-crunching in schools is that teachers often feel obliged to move too quickly to writing, a full folio and and evidence of that which is often confused with learning – WORK!
For more on reading aloud see this previous post Reading Aloud – Not Only in New York