Posts Tagged ‘reading in school’

On reading aloud

April 27, 2016

I remember being quite taken aback at learning, a few years back, that people did not always read silently to themselves. Apparently, up until something like the fifth century or so, even when reading alone, people would vocalise the words as they read – they read aloud, to themselves. And it was quite a discovery, a revelation, when someone realised that you didn’t have to do that; you could just look at the words and read them, and without the vocalising you could read rather faster…

Nowadays, silent reading is the norm, and reading aloud rather less common, I think. We read to infants and small children, and I can still recall the pleasure of reading to, and then reading with, my daughters. There is something magical about the young discovering story, and something conspiratorial as an adult sharing it with them. And, of course, children are read to at school.

I rediscovered reading aloud as a teacher. I’ve mentioned elsewhere in these pages my sharing of readers with my classes and how I based the major part of my teaching on books we read in class. Looking back on it all now, some years later, I think somewhere I was indulging my enjoyment of reading aloud to a certain extent. I would ask for volunteers to read and got them; I would pick on those who never volunteered occasionally; I would go round the class and have everyone read. And every half dozen turns or so, it came back to me to read: to pick up the pace, to reach a suitable pause for the end of a lesson, to bring out the best in a particular passage. Sometimes I would do the voices, or the accents… I think we all enjoyed it, and got the necessary learning done, too.

Poetry is a particular case: most poetry is meant to be read aloud, for then we get the full play of sounds, words, rhyme, rhythm, metre and the rest,which skimming silently over the words on the page cannot give; indeed I would advise students presented with unseen poems to write about in exams to ‘vocalise silently’ to themselves in order to extract the subtleties of the verse to write about.

I listen to many audiobooks (cue mention of Librivox again!) which means that there are many people out there who enjoy reading aloud for others, never knowing who their audience might be. Some read wonderfully well, some rather less so. I’ve found many of the readings of these volunteers very enjoyable. So, I also like being read to…

Somehow, the pleasure is different: the consumption of the text – and therefore its enjoyment – is much slowed. The words themselves, the choice of language, and its rhythms, if the delivery is good, can be savoured. You cannot fast-forward, skip over or skim-read a few pages of an audiobook as you can with the paper and ink version.

As preparation for a certain writing activity, I used to have students focus on each of the five senses individually and try and decide which they would do without, and which they would least wish to be deprived of: their responses were always many and varied. I shared my own reluctance with them, to lose my sight and therefore not be able to read: in such a sad case I would, I imagine, try to find a refuge and a substitute in being read to…

Reading in class

March 25, 2016

It’s coming up to five years since I said farewell to the classroom, and I find myself thinking quite a lot about what I used to do, and how and why; clearly processing something here, so I thought I’d share my musings, which are related to the broader issues of reading and literature.

Many young children are fortunate in being read to regularly at home; the most obvious example is the bedtime story. Then they are read to frequently at primary school, and enjoy this, too. I always felt that there is no reason that this should stop at secondary school. After all, many adults enjoy listening to audiobooks, perhaps while commuting. So, I always made it a practice to read whole texts with my classes; in the early years of secondary school, there was free choice, but later on the books were dictated by the demands of GCSE.

I always chose books that would be a challenge, in terms of language or subject matter; they were books that students often said they would never have chosen to read themselves, but nevertheless they were glad to have read the book in class. And we read the entire book, word for word, cover to cover. I really think this sharing and (perhaps) enjoying together was really important; there was no sending them away to read a couple of chapters for homework so we could get through it more quickly. The exciting bits we shared; the boring bits we shared, too, and out of them might come all sorts of interesting discussion: OK, that’s boring to you, so why do you think the writer did it like that?

All sorts of activities sprang from the book: looking up and learning new words; discussion of all sorts of topics and issues that came up – the story could be paused so that opinions could be aired. Anything was grist to the mill. Writing activities offered themselves: creative responses, dramatic or analytical ones, reviews and opinion pieces.

Everyone got to read. I would read frequently, to keep that pace of the story going, to pick up the threads after a not-so-good reader had finished, to ensure that we got to a suitable place to stop at the end of the lesson (didn’t always manage that!). Sometimes students volunteered; usually between a third and half the class were game for that; often I picked on students or read around the class, to ensure that all got the necessary practice. So much was gained by this sharing, it was clear to me; an outsider might think it was all a skive or a doddle for the class, when it was so much more. There was learning and enjoyment at the same time – what more could one ask for?

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