Friday, March 22, 2019

Feel Good Friday - The Power of the Read Aloud

Someone Who Makes a Difference 
Mr. Farley and his student (2017)

Fourth graders in Mr. Kevin Farley's class at Hampden Meadows School in Barrington, RI become voracious readers when spending the year in his room. As their school librarian I am a witness to this year after year. Children place holds for and have dozens of books delivered to their classroom each month. They cannot wait to take out their own copy of the book Mr. Farley is currently reading aloud to them. Students are eager to hear about new titles I introduce them to, and they eat out of the palm of my hand. The reason these children have such a positive outlook on literacy boils down to something so simple yet so important and sometimes overlooked: the daily read aloud.

Mr. Farley reads aloud to his students every day and this builds a culture of reading. It gives his class a shared experience and a level playing field. So far this year he has read How to Steal a Dog, Loser, Letters from Rifka, Maniac Magee, Al Capone Does My Shirts, and Crash. His students had lots to say about Mr. Farley's read alouds. I interviewed his class so they could help me write this post. The following paragraphs are completely their contributions.

Before beginning a book, Mr. Farley gives them background knowledge on what they'll need to know, like telling them about Alcatraz for Al Capone Does My Shirts. Before he starts a book, he tells them it's great and why. His class says he has read the book before so he can read it aloud even better, but he never spoils it.

Students love the way Mr. Farley reads aloud to them. They say when he reads, he uses different voices for the characters, and students almost feel like they are in the book. Students say when he does the voices for different characters they can imagine what the characters look like. Students like that if someone is absent, Mr. Farley catches them up on the read aloud when they get back. They also appreciate that he stops and talks about what a word might mean or he explains the time period to make the book easier to understand.

The impact of Mr. Farley's daily read aloud is far-reaching. Students say that by taking the time to read to them he makes them feel important. One child said that Mr. Farley's reading to them gave her a chance to get to know him better. One student said, "Sometimes if we need to take a break from the work we're doing, he will notice and say, 'Let's take a break and read for a bit.'" Yet another compelling reason to read aloud to students is a quote from a girl in Mr. Farley's class: "Whenever he reads aloud, it makes me feel calm."

I asked the class if anyone liked reading more this year after hearing Mr. Farley read aloud to them. Eighteen students raised their hand. One girl said his read alouds made her want to read more books and read all night. One boy said, "He mostly reads realistic fiction, which encouraged me to read other realistic fiction titles such as the Mr. Terupt series, One for the Murphys, and Eggs by Jerry Spinelli." Some students report that they enjoy reading the book along with Mr. Farley. One girl said before she had Mr. Farley she had seen the covers of the books he read aloud and wasn't interested, but now she wants to read the books he reads to them. Another girl said it makes her want to read the books again and imagine him doing the voices.

A few years back, one of Mr. Farley's students (pictured above) wrote her Library of Congress Letter About Literature to Jerry Spinelli because Mr. Farley had shared his books with her. I reached out to Mr. Spinelli through email to let him know about the student's letter and how her fourth grade teacher helped her develop a love of his books. Jerry Spinelli graciously wrote a letter to the student and sent a signed Maniac Magee poster for Mr. Farley as well. It was a thrilling day at our school. And a true testament to how a teacher who takes the time to read aloud to his students makes a bigger impact than he will ever truly comprehend.

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