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Monday, April 9, 2012

The View from the Coffee Shop at Barnes and Noble

So this morning I am sitting in the Barnes and Noble coffee shop waiting for my car to be repaired. Sitting here with my decaf Americano and cinnamon scone, I can look out over the sales floor. Here are the signs I see: LEGO Architecture, Toys and Games, Trends and Collectibles, Jigsaw Puzzles, Star Wars Figures, Travel Games. I kid you not, I must strain my eyesight from here to see a book.

At the risk of sounding old and stodgy, this worries me. When people enter a book store, they should be tripping over books, not action figures. I am trying to launch a one man offensive against toys and games and gimmicks taking over space in book stores. On Easter Sunday, I gave each of my children and grandchildren a book along with their chocolate bunny. The message: "Reading is sweet."

Please help me with my campaign; go to a book store this week, buy a book and give it to a kid. Try to ignore their disappointment when they see it is not a Star Wars action figure.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Need to Read Aloud

Recently, as I was cleaning out my office, I came across my copy of The Read Aloud Handbook, signed for me by the author, Jim Trelease. More than 30 years ago, I was doing a presentation at a reading conference in New York City. It was one of my first presentations at a large conference like this and I was quite nervous. My topic: The Role of Read Aloud in the Middle School Classroom. I had become a huge advocate of read aloud as an instructional strategy through my graduate work and through the reading of the Trelease book.

After the presentation, which I thought had gone rather well, a gentleman from the audience came up to me and said, "Hi, I'm Jim Trelease." I was floored. Jim Trelease, nationally known author and the country's biggest advocate of read aloud, was in the audience as I stole and shared many of his ideas. I think I stammered something like, "It's a pleasure to met you. I hope you liked what I had to say." In my mind I was thinking, "Oh my god, I hope I credited him appropriately."

He said kindly, "Absolutely, I think you were right on the mark. And thanks for plugging my book." He was very gracious, signed my copy of his book for me and gave me his phone number so we could stay in touch.

Over the years we ran into each other at subsequent conferences and he never failed to remember me and take a moment to talk about our work.

I bring this up now because I fear for the place of read aloud in our schools today. Only six years ago, with the encouragement of my then Superintendent, Sam Stewart, I had decreed that every student in every school in our district would be read to at least once a day. Now, I hear from many teachers that read aloud is being crowded out of the curriculum. Read aloud is an endangered species because of the creeping demands of accountability and testing. In an atmosphere where teachers feel under siege and where standardized test scores are high stakes, an apparent "soft" part of the curriculum, like read aloud, may get crowded out.

So perhaps now is a good time to revisit Jim Trelease and remind ourselves of the critical learning that results from children being read to every day.
  • Read aloud conditions the brain to view reading as a pleasurable activity
  • Read aloud builds background knowledge
  • Read aloud builds vocabulary
  • Read aloud provides a fluent reading model for children
The most skilled teacher would be hard pressed to design an activity that has that much bang for the buck. When an administrator asks you your goals for read aloud, recite the list above. Fight for the right to read aloud to your students. We must read to our students every day. To fail to do so is educational malpractice.