Nuts and Bolts of the Read Aloud in my Middle School Classroom

Reading aloud to my students daily is one of, if not the most, important aspects of my classroom.  I extoll the virtues of classroom read alouds to anyone and everyone who will listen, yet I realized I never broke down the nuts and bolts of it here on my blog!  Recently I have received a few emails seeking the answers to questions like, how do your read-alouds work? About how long does it really take to read an entire book aloud to the class? How much time do you spend per week on it? What types of assignments make their way into the gradebook?  Do you ever give traditional comprehension quizzes/tests or grammar tests? Does your school implement standards based report cards/grading?

 

How do your read-alouds work?

I read aloud to my class every.single.day.  Yes, there are days when it feels like a pain because we are pressed for time or the schedule has been changed.  But I refuse to shortchange my students when we are deep into a novel!  And if I ever feel like we truly don’t have time that day, my students make sure that we make the time (usually by begging)!  

I begin the school year with a read aloud on the first day of school.  From day one, my students see that I value reading and I value reading together as a community.  Those first days of school are always crazy- assemblies, extended class periods, getting to know you time, learning the ropes, and all that.  Well, that usually makes for lots of downtime.  Instead of doing silly bulletin board activities or useless worksheets, we read together.  It sets the stage for a great year!

When I read to my students, it is usually at the end of our period together.  I set aside about 15 minutes (sometimes more, sometimes less) to read each day.  My students stay at their desks  because we don’t have the time or space to move around- 6th graders are pretty big.  They just close their binders, put down their pens, and settle in for a relaxing few minutes.  I read and every so often stop to think aloud.  These think alouds might model a reading strategy or share a response I have to the text.  At other times they will elicit responses from the kids.  But I try not to spend too much time talking because that takes away time we could spend reading.   

I usually read between 1-3 chapters per day (depending on the book and chapter length, of course) and I try to leave my students at the end of a chapter.  If I can’t do that, I leave them hanging at a point when the time/action moves forward in a chapter.  This means I usually dedicate at least an hour to the read-aloud each week.  And honestly?  That hour is time that is usually lost otherwise because it’s “extra” or left-over time when we transition or the schedule changes or we have an extra 5 minutes here or there.  Learn to use time to your advantage!  

 

About how long does it really take to read an entire book aloud to the class?

Depends on the book. ;)  On average, I read about a book per month to my class.  Figure that most books are between 150-250 pages, and I read 10-20 pages per day.  This year I did read Chains and The Underneath to my class- each ran over 300 pages. These took slightly longer to read but were well worth it. I make smart decisions about the books I share with my class and that means trying to stay away from huge tomes. If a book is too long my students lose interest because it ends up being spread over 2 or 3 months. That’s just too long. Plus, I want to expose them to a variety of genres and authors through our read alouds and I can’t do that if we spend 3 months on one book.

 

What types of assignments make their way into the gradebook? 

I DO NOT grade the read alouds.  Read alouds are my way of modeling reading for pleasure, introducing my students to new genres and authors, and modeling my think alouds.  If I graded them, students would see them as work.  And I am trying to train lifelong readers, not academic-only readers.  However, I do grade reading.  The most important assignment I give is letter-essays.  Each student writes me a friendly letter, once every 3 weeks, telling me about the reading they are doing.  And then I write back.  If you aren’t familiar with letter-essays, you must check out Nancie Atwell’s The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers.

I also give alternate assessments. I’ve gathered these from a variety of sources, such as Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop: Making Informed Instructional Decisions in Grades 3-6. While it says grades 3-6, I think you could easily use many of the ideas up to grade eight.  I also give a monthly reading log that parents have to sign, which is worth 20 points.  If students hand it in on time, they receive a 20/20.  One day late is 15/20.  Two days is 10/20.  I do not accept it after two days.  (The reading log is something I struggled with- I don’t necessarily agree with them.  However, many parents asked for them and it appeases them.  For my kids, it’s no big deal because reading becomes an integral part of their life and daily routine within a few months.  They leave the log at home, mom or dad signs it, and they bring it back the day it is due.  A quick, easy grade and it forces them to be responsible!)

One of the best decisions I made was to grade based out of total points. Because I grade with a rubric 90% of the time, this makes it easier to get final grades. Each marking period is worth a total number of points (say 200) and I add up the points each student received. Then I divide it to get their average. For example, if a student received 165 points out of a possible 200, they would receive an 83 for the marking period.

 

Do you ever give traditional comprehension quizzes/tests or grammar tests?

Simply put, yes.  Each year I do two whole-class novels: Tuck Everlasting and The Giver. Both are required by the district. In the case of Tuck Everlasting, I use the novel as a means to teach my students how to annotate text. (Inspired by Monica Edinger ).  We read Tuck early in the year and annotating is a skill my students have very little experience with up until that point.  However, it’s a skill that will serve them well.  I treat the novel as a read-aloud but we annotate the text together and individually.  Because they are so familiar with it, my students are tested on the novel.  However, the test is short answers and an essay, not multiple-choice questions that they would just memorize.

The Giver is also a district requirement.  My students read it individually, and we discuss it together.  I do read certain chapters aloud, because the novel is difficult.  Again, the students are tested but the test consists of short answers, explaining the importance of quotes, and an essay.  There are also a few multiple choice questions.  

I know it seems like giving a traditional comprehension test/quiz goes against everything I believe in.  However, I have to prepare my students for middle school, where comprehension tests and quizzes are the norm.  And in high school.  But because my students are growing as lifelong readers, the tests and quizzes aren’t an issue for them.  I also make sure that I have enough alternate assignments in my gradebook that one test won’t hurt their grade too much if they don’t test well.  

As for grammar, I teach it within writing workshop as much as possible.  I also use Story Grammar for Elementary School: A Sentence-Composing Approach: A Student Worktext and Grammar for Middle School: A Sentence-Composing Approach–A Student Worktext a lot. I don’t give a lot of straight grammar tests but I sometimes give grammar quizzes.

 

Hopefully, this helps someone out there who wants to begin sharing read-alouds with their class.  Now is as good a time as any to start!  Questions?  Comments?  Ideas?  Leave them in the comments!

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