In recent workshops and presentations to teachers, both primary and secondary, I have suggested the importance of reading aloud in the development of literacy skills. To older readers, this will not exactly come as a startling revelation, but I believe that in recent years – probably the past couple of decades – we have largely abandoned the practice as soon as young learners are deemed to be ‘able to read’, or what a good friend of mine has described as competent at ‘barking at print.’
Admittedly, in those wonderful halcyon days when I was learning in primary school along with my forty-one fellow students, being asked to read aloud could be an embarrassing, and sometimes even humiliating, experience for some. It’s little wonder then that daily ritual of reading round the class has largely been abandoned (hasn’t it?).
Unfortunately, I fear that in rightly protecting the sensitivities of young people we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and forgotten the importance of a strategy which even as mature, developed readers, we often use when faced with a text which we find challenging, or which has been written especially to be spoken – think Shakespeare, or Dylan Thomas or Laurie Lee.
So reading aloud should not be seen simply as a way of demonstrating an ability to ‘say the words’ but should be recognised as an important strategy in developing comprehension and higher order reading skills, as well as a celebration of the joys of language, and it should be encouraged at all ages! Recently I came across a programme on Teachers’ TV which does just that. It is presented by John Scieszka, author of The Stinky Cheese Man and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs* among other things. I have included a short extract from the film, in which he talks about reading for fun, the importance of graphic novels, ‘reading’ pictures, embracing new technologies and the value of reading to your kids and having them read to you. You can see the full half-hour programme by clicking here.
*The True Story of the Three Little Pigs is a good example of a classic story given a modern twist. Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes is another one which appeals to young people. Updating with a humorous take, or setting a familiar story in a different time or location can be a creative writing challenge which young people respond well to.