Is Teacher Read-Aloud The Swiss Army Knife(SAK) of Effective Reading and Writing Pedagogy?
Teachers have always read aloud to their students. In fact it’s probably one of the most widely used classroom practices found in our schools.
I know this because I recently posed this question to Mr Google: ‘Why should teachers read aloud to their students?’ In the space of 0.36 seconds he identified 104 ,000,000 ( that’s 104 MILLION!) references, articles, citations, reports, and other texts which addressed my question. While I didn’t read every one of these 104 million entries, my impression from sampling the first twenty or so pages was that the overwhelming majority of these references were very positive about the value and power of teachers reading aloud to their students.
Sprinkled among the 104 million references was a plethora of research claims about the efficacy of regular sessions of teachers reading aloud in class. Among other things this research showed that Teacher Read Alouds could be used to, “demonstrate the power of stories”, “provide insights into how ‘reading works’”, “show how to search for meaning”, “demonstrate how make connections and inferences”, “develop new vocabulary and syntactic awareness”, “stimulate imagination”, “expose students to a range of literature”, “help distinguish different genres”, “encourage a lifelong enjoyment of reading”, “help learner-writers identify and transfer the literary devices authors use to their own writing”, and much, much more.
What’s this got to do with the Swiss Army Knife (SAK) ?
I think the SAK a useful metaphor for challenging our traditional perceptions of the Teacher-Read Aloud and opening it up to new possibilities. When I visualise the SAK I see a compact container of handy tools such as a screwdriver, nail file, corkscrew, toothpick, scissors, and tweezers. Furthermore this picture invokes a range of associated meanings such as SAK’s are portable and convenient, they can be carried with you anywhere, you can reach for it anytime, open it up, and quickly select the tool you need for filing your nails, opening wine, tightening a loose screw, and so on. With some of the newer versions you can add new tools–some SAKs have over 80 attachments!
Think about it. Like the SAK, a Teacher Read Aloud session is an extremely ‘portable’ entity which all teachers can carry with them from class to class. Like the SAK a Teacher Read Aloud event is a ‘multi-purpose, versatile, one-stop pedagogical tool’ (or platform) for creating a multiplicity of mindful, contextualised opportunities for learners to engage with the multiplicity of skills and knowledge that effective readers and writers need to control.
Finally, like the SAK, the Teacher Read Aloud strategy has its own set of ‘basic’ tools which can be ‘opened’ and applied. These are the Conditions of Learning which I believe underpin effective human learning. Regular Teacher Read Alouds are a form of immersion, which create opportunities for a multitude of demonstrations about learning, language and all the other accoutrements of effective reading, writing and spelling, grammar, text structure, and so on. Furthermore Teacher Read Alouds are inherently engaging , providing opportunities to communicate expectations, to respond to learners’ approximations, leading to opportunities for learners to employ their burgeoning skills and knowledge about reading and writing, and take responsibility for applying such skills and knowledge to the real world.