Now it’s time for a Q&A break with Jim Trelease, the author of The Read Aloud Handbook.
It’s no secret that national, state, and local mandates as well as standardized testing have negatively impacted the classroom climate throughout the U.S. Many teachers feel they have no time left to actually teach and sometimes read-alouds get pushed out of the daily routine. How often should a teacher in preschool, kindergarten, or first grade be reading aloud to students daily? How often should a parent be reading to their child at home?
In 1985 the national Commission on Reading (out of the U.S. Department of Education) declared: “Reading aloud to children is the most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading.” Nothing has come along to refute that conclusion in nearly three decades. The commission even said it was a practice that continue throughout the grades. We’ve increased the amount of testing, the variety of assessments, and the consequences for both child and teacher since 1985. And what have been the academic end-results? A one-point increase in reading scores for 17-year-olds (the eventual repository of our testing efforts and billions of our assessment dollars). And through the three decades, we decreased the amount of time we spent reading aloud to children, decreased the stories they could experience without fear of failure, decreased the stories they could meet for pure pleasure, and decreased the amount of time we spent advertising reading for fun (that is reading aloud). Doesn’t look like the three-decade approach is working. Anyone for another three decades of intensive testing in hopes things will turn around?
On page 61 of my 7th edition, I include the story of Jennie Fitzkee, a preschool teacher in Groton, Massachusetts. Jennie reads throughout the day to her three- and four-year-olds, from picture books to novels. There are discussions, questions, play-acting, story-telling, throughout the day. Yes it can be done. As for parents, at least twenty-minutes a day for reading. A shortage of time? Not so. If there were a real shortage of time, all the malls would be closed, all the cable channels out of business. We always find time for what we value. Schools need to sell the value of it to the parents, starting when those parents are children in their classrooms.
On page 69 of the 7th edition, I recount the experience of Kimberly Douglas, a former sixth-grade teacher who years later polled her former students about what they remembered from their year with her. Most common remembrance? They books she read to them — in 6th grade! The only kind of education worth talking about it lasting education, the stuff that makes you a lifetime reader.
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