At some point or another, we’ve all faced that moment where, with five minutes before the kids come back from lunch, we realize that we meant to read aloud that afternoon. We quickly pack up our lunch, say good-bye to our colleagues, and zip back into our classrooms. We run our eyes over the shelf of picture books and randomly choose either that book that came in the last Scholastic order that we’ve been wanting to read but haven’t yet or the one that we’ve read a gazillion times and know that students love. As the students file back into the classroom and gather around our feet, we crack open the cover and work read aloud magic. Phew! We exhale as our potential read aloud disaster is averted.
As we look back on these instructional days, we sigh and think, “Wow, that’s when I read aloud just because it was fun.” We grimace a bit as we think about the role of read aloud in the age of the Common Core and wonder what, if any, role it will have as we move forward.
The good news is this: as you think about aligning instruction to meet the demands of the Common Core, read aloud is as important as ever. It will continue to model fluent reading and remind students of the joy that can be found between the pages of books. In addition, it will also serve as a conduit for building background knowledge that will make grade level complex text accessible to more and more students. Read aloud has always presented itself as an opportunity for rich thinking about text, and in the age of the Common Core, it will remain as important as ever to read aloud to students in order to nurture their thinking and meaning making processes.
The bad news is this (or is this really more good news?): Gone are the days of the lunch-rush book selections. While pleasure should always be a by-product of the read aloud, if we are going to meet the goals of the Common Core Standards, we will need to return to the questions that guide intentional, instructional decision making:
- What is exceptional about this book?
- Why does this matter?
- How will this book challenge my students as learners?
- How will this book engage my students as thinkers?
- What is the relevance/usefulness of this intellectual exploration?
- How does this book support my larger goals for building students’ knowledge about a particular concept or topic?
Furthermore, given that there are millions of picture books from which we can choose, we think you can address the questions above and also find books that address the last two questions:
7. What will my students learn about writing as they read this book?
8. What is striking about the illustrations in this book?
Our book selections can reflect the larger instructional goals we have for our students as learners and as humans. We will need to think carefully about the topics and concepts in need of scaffolding and select books that support growing students’ knowledge about content and strategies for better reading and writing, as well as those that address strategies for growing into people who will make the world a better place. Most importantly, we will need need to keep careful notes about what we read aloud and look to see that our choices reflect a balance between fiction and informational text.
As we think about implementing the Common Core, we imagine that it would be nearly impossible to achieve the goals outlined for each grade-level without invoking the power of read aloud. When it comes to instructional planning, two words act as the mainstay to this structure: intention and balance.