What Is It?
As students in grades 4-6 become more independent learners, it is important for teachers to model and support higher level reading. Being a good role model means that teachers share their reading habits and interests with their students and model effective reading strategies and behaviors. First and foremost, teachers need to be avid readers themselves. Students are eager to know what and how much their teachers are reading on their own time.
An especially powerful way for teachers to model good reading is to show their own enjoyment of quality literature by reading aloud to their students. In daily read-alouds, teachers can pique student interest in old favorites and in new books (Newbery Award-winning books are usually popular in grades 4-6). Older elementary school students still love to hear adults read aloud.
Students also benefit from learning that expert readers think about their reading. Teachers can demonstrate how mature readers ask questions and make predictions before they read and how they continue to reflect during and after reading. By describing and revealing their own thinking processes to students as they read aloud, teachers can "make reading visible." Effective teachers explain and model specific reading strategies, and then offer guidance as needed while students practice first with peers and then independently. Through this combination of modeling and guided student practice, teachers gradually release control and increase student independence in learning.
Implications for ELLs
Reading aloud to English language learners (ELLs) in grades 4-6 is an excellent way to model higher level reading. Read-alouds provide students with access to interesting and age-appropriate materials that might be too difficult for them to read independently. When teachers read aloud, it exposes ELLs to the sounds, structural patterns, and vocabulary of English as well as to different literary styles and genres.
Strategies for Supporting ELLs
At the intermediate grades in elementary school, beginning English language learners (ELLs) can benefit from listening to read-alouds. Teachers can read picture books, using the illustrations to develop vocabulary and to make story meaning clear. This works best in contexts where ELLs will not be self-conscious or fearful that more proficient students will tease them about reading "baby books." One such context might be a class project doing a "study" of children's literature.
Effective teachers can use read-alouds of chapter books as opportunities for language development. Before reading each new chapter, teachers and students review and summarize the previous chapters, making predictions about what will happen next. This provides multiple opportunities to understand, hear, and practice the language of the story.
To learn more about the countries, languages, and cultures of their students, teachers can read culturally specific books. Students may be excited to see a book about Mexican music, Cambodian temples, Nigerian legends, or a Lithuanian inventor on their teacher's desk. When teachers read such books, they demonstrate interest in and respect for students' backgrounds. In addition, this creates an opportunity for conversations in which ELLs can demonstrate that they possess valuable background knowledge. (It is also important not to assume that ELLs are experts on all topics relating to their culture.) To make the hidden cognitive processes of reading and writing more accessible to ELLs, teachers orally narrate their thoughts and indicate how they are using reading strategies.
Effective teachers say things like:
Glimpse of the Classroom
Mrs. C. is talking with her fourth graders about "thinking about your reading." A chart next to her says Reading Is Thinking. She begins the lesson by sharing her own examples.
"Sometimes I think about how the book makes me feel. I often do a lot of thinking aloud, and sometimes I think in my head. I was thinking about the story, Thank You, Mr. Faulkner. I felt for Tricia when the other children were making fun of her. I felt angry at them. When I was reading the Lotta book, I did some predicting about Caroline's problem. What would happen? Sometimes I think about what I like. Sometimes I think about the author's language--whether I liked the way she described something. You might think about the way it reminds you of someone.
"Today, I've left two post-its on your desk so you can find two spots in your book that you respond to. You will make a note about your response and mark the two passages in your books with the post-it. Later we will share these passages and our responses with each other."
She invites the students to list things to think about while reading. They volunteer ideas.
"Yes," responds Mrs. C. "I've read books that made me cry. I don't even know the people in the book, but the author has made me so interested in the character and describes the characters so well that if something sad happens, I cry, and I think to myself, 'This is ridiculous; they are not even people I know.' But you feel like you know the character. Reading can do that to you."
Mrs. C. writes the list on the board, and says, "This is an excellent list. We may even add to it later when we notice more things during our reading."
She repeats the instructions for the assignment, and students return to their desks to read and to find passages that relate to items on the list.
Mrs. C. has modeled and practiced "thinking about reading" together with her class so that students will be able to work on their own.
Questions to Think About