Back to School 2020. Instead of the usual excitement mixed with the silly worry about whether we’ll love this year’s class as much as last year’s, we are all feeling some anxiety and trepidation about whether we will succeed in reaching our students at all. Will we have an opportunity to know them in person in our classrooms? Will we be teaching remotely? A hybrid model? Many of us still don’t know what school year 2020 will bring, but we do know that it most likely will be a blend of in-person and remote learning and that brings some real challenges.
Last spring, our learning curve was steep and some powerful lessons have emerged for us about ways of adapting what we know and love for hybrid and remote learning models. We at TLA believe wholeheartedly that what we know about best practices can be adapted for our new reality, and we wanted to start by thinking about the start of school.
One of the most important things you can do at the start of a new school year is build community, teach routines, engage your learners and set the tone for the new school year.
This is even more important in Fall 2020. We know that for so many of our children, schools are a safe haven where the love of their teacher anchors them no matter what happens outside of the classroom. We all abruptly lost this last March, and in this week’s blog post, we want to talk about one of the most important anchors you can provide for your students–Interactive Read Aloud.
Creating a live Interactive Read Aloud Routine is one of the most powerful ways you can build community, connect with your students, and create that safe haven.
Many preschool and Kindergarten teachers did “bed time” read alouds last spring—reading a story at 7 p.m., way above and beyond their typical working hours, but so many families shared how relaxing and comforting that was for their children. How about we, of ALL grades, think about morning read alouds as a comforting and safe way to begin our days?
So many of us used to start our school days with Morning Meeting, full of routines and predictability, but before that, we said hello to each student, welcoming them to our rooms—a designated morning live Read Aloud can provide that greeting and set up the rest of the day, plus infuse a shot of thinking, learning, conversation and connection.
There are many, many recorded Read Alouds already out there and so many publishers have allowed teachers to use their books in this way, which is fantastic, but it isn’t the same as reading live to your students.
In a live Interactive Read Aloud, in our classrooms, we gathered our students on the rug, or brought their chairs together somewhere close to us and we adopted our best storyteller’s voices to make characters come alive, share the wonder of informational articles or the passion of poetry. We, the teachers, stopped at interesting places and either shared our own thinking or asked some questions that encouraged our students to ponder and reflect. Or, we might have noticed a child’s eyes widening or heard a gasp and paused to invite that child to share their thinking. Then another child chimed in, adding even more insight and suddenly we had a conversation going! For so many of us it was a guilty pleasure—we were able to do something “fun” for everyone and KNOW that it was where the real teaching and learning happened.
PLEASE don’t lose that! You cannot spoil a class by reading too much to them, and in this uncertain time, a good picture book or a new novel might just provide the perfect balance of teaching and social/emotional health that teachers are so good at doing! I know very few children (or adults) who don’t like listening to a good story.
(You know what I miss most working from home, besides human contact? I miss the story CD’s I used to listen to as I drove to see all of our partner schools!)
Ways to Adapt you Interactive Read Aloud
Interactive Read Alouds are times when the skills you have so meticulously taught in your focus lessons and small groups are united as we see how readers use everything in their tool box to understand and enjoy great texts. Live Read Alouds can continue this in ways recorded sessions cannot with just a few adaptations and just like when you read aloud in classrooms, children won’t even recognize all the learning they are doing!
Make sure students can see the pictures
Pre-COVID, we gathered our children at our feet so it was easy for them to see pictures and talk to each other. If we have remote learners, use a document camera, or hold the book close to the camera so children can see the pictures. If our students are in the classroom, but at their socially distant desks, walk around the room, showing the pictures up close and encouraging children to move their heads, which will keep them engaged.
Use your Best Story Teller Voice
Even if you were a dynamic reader before, this is the time to up that storyteller’s voice! Nothing will keep a child’s attention more than the quality of your voice. If you are reading a news article about Comet Neowise, put so much wonder into your voice that kids will want to research after you are done! If you are reading a story, exaggerate emotions in a way that would make a stage actor proud!
Model Your Thinking Even More than Before
When you notice a character making a choice that spells trouble, exaggerate your “Uh, oh! WHY would she do that? I’m so worried she is making a mistake.” Invite children to interrupt you with the raise hand functions of your conference platform or jot something in the chat. Even K students can simply type a letter in the chat that will clue you in to call on them. Many of us would pause and ask literal comprehension questions before—now isn’t the time to ask simple questions, but to ask the questions that encourage inference and synthesis—turn the tables on the kids and ask them “WHY? Why would a character do that?” Immerse the students in a powerful story with your voice and they will follow the plot, and want to discuss the nuances.
Adapt Turn & Talks
One loss of 2020 will be the turn and talk time that had become so ubiquitous in all of our rooms. So we adapt, by encouraging longer full group conversations. Yup, that may take more time, but this time is so valuable that it’s ok to give Read Alouds longer than the 10 or 15 minutes we allotted in our classrooms! Teach students to call on their classmates, rather than you doing it—that will engage them as they seek others who are “raising their hands” or posting in a chat. Many of you used the “me too” gesture that kids learned to use to agree—invent a gesture that means, “I have something to add!”
Encourage kids to stop and jot/draw, and then share some of those by holding them up to the camera or if in the classroom, under a document camera. This is a time when a clipboard with paper and writing implements may be a helpful way of keeping their thinking alive.
If you are on a remote platform that has breakout rooms, put 3-4 kids into rooms once or twice with some clear directions like, “Talk about your inferences about the character’s feelings.” Or, “Discuss your predictions about what you think is going to happen based on what has happened so far.” Or, even, “Talk about what you really liked about that story.”
Make a Routine & Stick to It
Truthfully, I don’t know many teachers who started their days with Interactive Read Alouds, although I do know many who read right after lunch or near the end of the day. This is an adaptation I’d like to propose that we make a “movement” out of. Think about it: every teacher in America reads at whatever their designated school start time is—gets kids to tune in, start their day with a smile and some companionship and conversation, live or on a device! I know so many teachers who had kids looking at their Google Classroom list of tasks to start the days….how much better would that feel AFTER a great read aloud?
Read a variety of texts. Read novels, short stories, picture books, informational articles about topics that will fascinate students, poems, and don’t forget age-appropriate news.
Record these sessions for repeated listening. I know I said do these live, and I mean that, but if it is “ok” with your district, record these readings and conversations so children can go back and listen again—hearing the story and the conversations. It will mean so much more to see themselves and their friends! Or, if that is not possible, do record yourselves reading, maybe in EdPuzzle, where you can encourage some stopping and jotting or other responses, but use that as a supplement, not instead of live reading!
Let’s do it!
Unprecedented times calls for all sorts of changes in our teaching and thinking, but the comfort of a good Interactive Read Aloud has the potential to make school feel more “normal,” and set the stage for all the teaching that is to follow. You can use those books to encourage children to do their own Independent Reading and Writing, use snippets for your focus lessons, and base much of the rest of your curriculum on reusing parts of these texts.
Let’s do it! Let’s all promise ourselves and our students the gift of starting our days with a wonderful, powerful, pleasurable Interactive Read Aloud!