In The Classroom: Reading Aloud Redux

In the latest Notes from the Horn Book, Richard Peck is very opinionated about teachers reading aloud his books:

4. You talk a lot with young readers. What are they telling you?

Things they didn’t mean to. Over and over they’re telling me that the books I wrote for them to read are being read to them by their teachers. And hearing a story read doesn’t seem to expand their vocabularies. If a teacher is going to take limited classroom time in reading aloud (and even giving away the ending), the least she could do is hand out a list of vocabulary from the reading to be looked up and learned.

Years ago I heard Peck come down very hard on teachers and, ever since, I’ve had to separate that memory when reading his books. This year I feel A Season of Gifts is one of the strongest books of the year — the character development excellent, the various threads of story beautifully developed, and the language and setting is sublime.  A really lovely work.   And so I will again set aside this quote from the author and continue to appreciate his work.  Maybe one day he will appreciate what I do too.

There are so many ways I read aloud to my students.  Recently I wrote about my general reading program and reading aloud is an important part of it.  My first day of school with students is this coming Monday and I’ve got a pile of books on my desk as I mull over which one I will begin with.  There will be no vocabulary lessons or sheets with it.  If the first book is Boyce’s Cosmic I may have to slip in a few bits of information, but only what is needed to enjoy the story.  If I read aloud  (but probably won’t because I think it is for older kids than those I teach) A Season of Gifts I would do the same thing — slip in explanations if necessary.  However, kids can also use their own developing skills to figure out what words mean themselves using context.  Turning a read aloud into a deadly vocabulary lesson happens, far too often, I fear.  And such a lesson is unlike to endear many of those child readers to Peck’s books, I’m afraid.

For more on what I read aloud in my classroom and how, here are a bunch of those posts.  Even better, go read this talented 6th grade teacher’s response to Peck.


Filed under In the Classroom, Reading Aloud

10 responses to “In The Classroom: Reading Aloud Redux

  1. Yikes! I’ve had my head in my own personal cloud and missed this one. Good for you and Sarah for your thoughtful responses!


  2. Sigh. A couple of my elementary school teachers would change words they thought we wouldn’t understand when they were reading aloud. And I only knew about the books I had read several times and so had them almost memorized–it surely happened even more often than I knew. I specifically remember my fourth-grade teacher changing a word in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing from “script” to “handwriting”. I wish I had a copy of the book here to show how she totally messed up the symmetry but it’s something like

    “”You should do the whole poster, because you have the best handwriting.”
    “Well, I do have a nice even script,” Sheila said.”

    Yeah, because we couldn’t figure out the word “script” from context clues there.

    The quote from Richard Peck is very strange–what story was he told where a teacher gave away the ending? That surely just isn’t normal read-aloud he’s talking about. I know that I gained very little from read-alouds when I was a kid, and I know now it’s because I have trouble processing and paying attention to that–as a kid I assumed everyone did–and I wonder if Richard Peck might have the same issue, and so not see the value for other people? And where does he get his “doesn’t seem to expand their vocabularies” statement? (I mean, part of me says “who cares”, but I also doubt there’s a study out there…)

    Monica, any time this statement comes to mind and rankles, maybe you could counter it with the lovely things Beverly Cleary says about a classroom readaloud of Smoky, the Cowhorse (and the classroom virtual recitation of Les Miserables) in her first autobiography.


  3. Oh, thank you Monica. If we expect children to walk away from every reading experience with a lesson, how then can we expect them to turn to reading for pleasure?


  4. Peck was a teacher himself for many years, as I’m sure you know. I wonder how his own classroom experience and methods factor into his belief that reading aloud to middle-grade students isn’t the best way to use books and classroom time.


  5. J.L, I did know he taught, but wanted to know more and by way of the wikipedia piece on him ( found an interview (Delta Chi Quarterly, Fall/Winter 2001: 6-7, 20. There’s a link to the pdf at the end in the wikipedia notes). Here’s a relevant quote from it:

    Following his separation from the Army,
    Richard’s teaching career led him to New York
    City, where he taught English to gifted, female
    students at Hunter College’s affiliated high
    school. He continued as a teacher until he
    reached the age of 37. At that time, he realized
    that he was caught in the midst of the
    revolution of the 1970s, and found that he was
    no longer being allowed to teach as he had
    been taught. “I realized that teachers are more
    tired at the end of the day than the students,
    and that the wrong people are being educated.
    One day I said, ‘To hell with it,’ and said to
    myself, ‘Write or Die.’


  6. Having heard Richard Peck speak recently at the SCBWI Golden Kite Luncheon in LA, I can tell you he’s a fantastic speaker and a wonderfully opinionated one. He said many things that were provocative, but that I didn’t necessarily agree with. That’s how I take this one.

    I don’t see why having a book read to a student versus having them read it themselves is less likely to expand vocabulary. How many kids stop to look up a word when they’re reading? It’s all pretty much from context, which I could argue can be enhanced in a reading.

    For me, reading to a class does something crucially important–it makes kids love language and books. They probably exist, but I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love that quiet time, the teacher’s voice, the shared emotions, the suspense, the spell cast by language and story.


  7. Hmm, I wonder how he would feel about audio books then?

    Regardless, you’re doing a great job for your kids! He can do what he does well, and you can do what you do well. :-)

    I always liked vocab conversations where we would make educated guesses about what the word meant (like after a scene break or chapter end). Kind of like a school version of Balderdash!


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  9. Pingback: On Reading Aloud on World Read Aloud Day | educating alice

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