In 6th grade Humanities, much of what we do is focused on creating stronger readers. To do this, we look at what readers out in the world do successfully and work toward building those skills in our students. Early in the year, sixth graders identify and create systems to practice the habits of a reader, including tracking the books we read, keeping a list of books “on deck” for future reading and creating time to read. We discuss how books can be windows or mirrors, meaning they offer us ways to reflect on experiences and perspectives that are similar to our own (mirrors) or invite us to dive into new experiences and perspectives (windows). Students set independent reading goals to stretch themselves beyond their favorite genres or typical reading routines.
My favorite part of reading instruction, however, is taking time to read aloud to students. Though students may be able to read the words in a book on their own, the reading experience becomes richer when shared with others. We enter a world that perhaps we haven’t been to before. We learn about characters, situations, and moments in history in a very personal way, walking in another’s shoes. Together, we struggle through finding friends, losing pets, taking risks, standing up for others or sailing on the high seas.
When read to, students who usually find reading to be work, experience the pleasure of reading. They can listen to a book read at a pace that engages and builds suspense. Our common text becomes a shared conversation on writing style and author choices, character development and story message. We have an opportunity to ask questions, make predictions and question choices. We create shared understanding and empathy when we connect what happens in the story to our own experiences.
This year, our first read-aloud was Rain, Reign, by Ann Martin, the story of a high-functioning autistic girl, Rose, who is mesmerized by homonyms and calmed by prime numbers, and with whom we experience the love and loss of her dog, Rain. Daily, students would beg for the next installment of Rose’s story. They were angered when Rose was treated unfairly and got a dreamy look in their eyes as Rose described cuddling with her dog on their porch swing. They giggled when Rose finally made a friend and teared up while I steadied myself to read the sadder chapters. Inspired by Rose’s love of words, we created our own class list of homonyms that we continued to add to long after we finished the book.
As anyone in a book club knows, stories build community as we share our own connections and responses to a character or event in a book we have read together. I think read-aloud time is a bit of classroom magic-transforming words on a page into a common language and shared friends.