In the October Talking Points, Laura May and Gary Bingham encourage elementary teachers to use interactive read-alouds. What makes interactive read-alouds different from the traditional activity of a teacher reading aloud to the class? “[R]ather than waiting for the teacher to sanction student talk by calling on a student with a raised hand,” they explain, “students are allowed to make comments and ask questions as they have them.“ Teachers also stop frequently to share their own thoughts on the reading material, modeling engagement.
While this style may make the reading less smooth, May and Bingham believe it makes the students more engaged and encourages more critical thinking. “In addition to providing a way for teachers to think aloud, thus pulling back the curtain to let students see how they make sense of text, the interactive read-aloud sends clear messages to students that what they have to say is important.”
May and Bingham suggest several tips to help teachers maximize the effectiveness of an interactive read-aloud. Most crucial is selecting the right text. Nonfiction can often be engaging and educational, and they recommend considering the following questions:
- Is this text one that allows children’s everyday sense-making to be treated as complementary to scientific reasoning?
- Does the text reflect how the information was constructed, or does it present knowledge as fixed and timeless?
- How does the text fit into larger socio-historical narratives?
They argue it’s also important for the reading to be “culturally relevant.” As they write, “All children should be able to see themselves and their communities reflected in the books their teachers read to them.” May and Bingham do not specify whether the cultures and communities they have in mind are ones defined by race, by religion, by neighborhood, by age, by economic class, or by lifestyle; but the advice offered applies equally well to all.
Once material is chosen that is relevant to the children’s lives, the teacher should then present it with techniques that maximize the educational benefits of interactive read-alouds:
When a teacher pauses, providing appropriate wait time between pages or after a child makes a comment, she is sending a clear message that the other students are capable and also have informed things to say—they only need a moment. Rather than dismissing comments they do not understand, teachers should respond questioningly, allowing students to make their thinking clear, describe how they arrived at it, and explain how it adds to the collective understanding of the text. Thus teachers’ responses to children’s questions and comments should serve to clarify, verify, and correct rather than simply to evaluate. When asking questions, rather than asking those that fit into the category of guess-what-I’m-thinking, they should ask with genuine interest those questions that have children engaging deeply with big-idea concepts, seeking out information about how the ideas connect to the children’s lives (and thus why they might matter to them), and thinking through how the ideas fit (or clash) with what they already know.
The bottom line for May and Bingham is this: “[H]owever we achieve our interactive read-aloud goals, high expectations have to include teaching and expecting students to productively participate in academic conversation while making space to question presented information and imagine alternate possibilities.”
On the NCTE website, you can read May and Bingham’s full article “Making Sense with Informational Texts: The Interactive Read-Aloud as Responsive Teaching.”