On Read Alouds: ‘Pull a Favorite Book, Stop What You Are Doing, and Read to Them’

The following essay was first printed as the closing comments in Lester Laminack (2009)"Unwrapping the Read Aloud: Making Every Read Aloud Experience Intentional and Instructional" NY: Scholastic, (pp.93-95), and on Lester Laminack's personal blog on January 29, 2016. It is reproduced here with his permission.

Reading aloud to the children in our lives seems like such a commonsense practice. Yet in recent years I have heard teachers remark that they simply don’t have time to read aloud. These same teachers comment on how much they enjoy reading to their students and share fond memories from their own school years when teachers read to them. It is as if we feel the need to justify the use of precious time to read aloud. We seem afraid to exercise our own good judgment to do what our professional knowledge tells us is right and good for children. Let me remind you that we are professionals. Somehow in the midst of all the demands for higher scores, the very real threats of school takeovers, and the infiltration of scripted programs, we have lost sense of this fact. We are professionals.

Remember that we have a specific knowledge base that sets us apart from the rest of the population. We have deep understandings and insights into human growth and development, language and literacy development, pedagogy, curriculum design, and instructional technique. We know things the general public simply doesn’t understand. Yet we continue to allow influences beyond our profession diminish our sense of self and steal our very professional identity from us, and in doing so we lose our professional integrity.

I urge you to renew that knowledge base. Revisit those books and articles that once sparked your professional knowledge and piqued your curiosity. Revisit those books and articles, conference proceedings, and videos that once excited you, invigorated you, and nudged you into new practices in your classroom. Revisit the last time you felt charged and in charge. Remember those days when you entered the profession, and remember the feelings and beliefs that brought you in.

I can’t know your reasons for becoming a teacher, but I am virtually certain that there is not one teacher breathing who chose this profession because he or she wanted to raise a test score or make adequate yearly progress goals for the school. Whatever the reason you had for becoming a teacher, I’m confident it had something to do with children and their welfare and their sense of self. I am fairly confident it had something to do with helping children reach their potential and realize their dreams. Let’s refocus our energies on the children. Let’s make each decision based on what we believe would be good for the specific children in our charge. Let’s make daily decisions with that in mind. Let’s trust our professional judgment to guide our decisions. Let’s teach with integrity and know that our students will do well if our attention is directed toward the child—the mathematician and scientist and artist and writer and musician and athlete and reader and social scientist and dreamer and inventor and visionary in each of them. Let’s teach children again. Let’s be reminded we are here to raise humans, not scores.

Let me remind you that literature in all its many forms has such potential to expand the horizons of every child—regardless of background or baggage, privilege or poverty. When we read aloud to them, we offer them new vistas and new visions. We offer them new ways of coping with life’s issues and pleasures. We offer them new opportunities to grow their language and their understandings. We help them realize how much there is to learn. When we read aloud, we show them how we gain a little knowledge to ask better questions, and that asking better questions drives us to read even more. When we read aloud, we introduce them to people just like them and like no one they have ever imagined. We help them realize their homes are only a small sample of the dwellings of all humanity. We help them realize their families are one of many ways families can be formed. We help them realize that the sound of their language is one note in the music of the many languages on the globe. When we read aloud, we help them realize what they value and cherish as worthy and worthwhile and holy is only one way of assigning importance in this great big world. When we read aloud, we help them realize that no matter who we are, no matter where we live, no matter what we value, no matter how we sound, we are more alike as human beings from the inside out than we are different from the outside in. But perhaps the most important message that comes from our reading aloud to them is one that says you are worth the time this will take. You are the focus of what I do as a teacher. When I read to you, I give you that same undivided attention you once had snuggling in the lap of a caregiver who read to you. When a teacher reads aloud, it is a bonding between the teacher, the children, the books, and the act of reading. That in itself is worthy.

Friends, I urge you to reconnect to those stirrings that brought you into this profession. I urge you to refocus your attention to the children in your care. There is no more precious treasure on this globe than the children of its people. Nothing holds greater potential for good, for truth, for justice than the children on this Earth. We cannot afford to contaminate that precious resource with notions of worth connected to the number on a test. We cannot afford to lead our children to the belief that our school’s success, our success, their success, and, by association, their worth, is invested in adequate yearly progress. For a child to believe that he or she has responsibility for the success of a school, a community, a state, and the nation is ludicrous at best and immoral at worst.

Take some time now to search through your books, to carefully and critically examine your schedule, to revisit your vision about why this matters. Pull a favorite book, stop what you are doing, and read to them.

In all things, be kind and truthful. Let nothing you do take from a child his or her dignity as a human being, his or her integrity as a learner, his or her identity as one who is capable. Cause no intentional harm.

Peace be with you,
Lester