What should you do when students have already read or heard the book?

This seems to be a constant in just about every school: You have that favorite read aloud you have been waiting to share with your students. When you announce the read aloud, students say, “We already read that book.” or “Our teacher read it to us last year.”

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What do you do? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Read it aloud anyway.

Readers reread books if they were a favorite and/or had something profound to learn. Explaining this to students should help with any disgruntled listeners. A main point of the read aloud is for students to hear the written word spoken. If it is an excellent title, there should hopefully be few complaints. It might be wise to ask first before forging ahead, such as offering a choice between the book they know and other acceptable titles.

  • Read aloud parts of the book.

Selecting some passages to share with students who have already heard the book offers multiple benefits. First, it is a nice compromise with the kids. We can show that we are listening to them and value their opinion. Second, reading aloud selected passages is an opportunity to notice author’s craft. Teachers can point out what made the author’s writing so good and worth reading again. Finally, it is an opportunity to…

  • Select a new title to read aloud.

Excellent titles that would make for great read alouds are published every year. By being open minded about what books to share with students, we discover new books together.

If you would like a book that is similar to the title you had planned but the kids already heard, check out Amazon. Put in the title into the search bar, and Amazon will share other books readers have purchased in addition to the one you listed. For example, when I looked up Charlotte’s Web, Amazon suggested Stuart Little (also by E.B. White), Pippi Longstockings, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Mr. Popper’s Penguins. These are all classics for a reason.

(Note: Whenever possible, avoid Amazon and buy local. Click here for reasons why.)

You can also connect with your school’s library media specialist (and what a crime if you do not have one). Going with the Charlotte’s Web example, he or she would likely steer you to titles of the same genre and topic, such as Babe: The Gallant Pig and Owls in the Family. Your library media specialist may also suggest newer titles such as Flora and Ulysses and The Cheshire Cat: A Dickens of a Tale.

If you do not have library media specialist (again, a crime), check out the E.B. White award winners for best read alouds from each year. You can also purchase a copy of The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. It was my go-to guide when I taught 5th and 6th grade. I have the last four editions, as Trelease would update the treasury of book lists. He also offers suggestions on his website.

An essential element in reading aloud is what you choose to read.

-Jim Trelease

Whatever approach you take when kids have already heard the story, the more important point is reading aloud to your students every day.

The Read Aloud Handbook #ptchat is Tonight!

The Read Aloud Handbook #ptchat is Tonight!

Please join us for a lively conversation on Twitter at 5:30 P.M. CST tonight (3/4/13). We will be using the #ptchat hashtag. As you can see from the questions written, we will be discussing some important issues, such as the benefits of giving kids time to read, and the pros and cons of reading incentive programs.

Reading Year in Review – 2013

Inspired by Regie Routman’s most recent post about what she’s reading, I thought I would do the same on my blog. Below are the books I read in 2013. I am sure I read a few more than what was listed here, but I was too busy reading to post them on Goodreads! Some of these titles are rereads, noted with an *. These books deserved another read because they had more to offer than one round would provide.

The Sandwich Swap
The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (Portfolio Edition)
The End of the Beginning
Tiny Titans Vol. 8: Aw Yeah Titans!
Odd Boy Out: Young Albert Einstein
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
Underwater Dogs
Coaching Conversations: Transforming Your School One Conversation at a Time
Teaching Students to Read Like Detectives: Comprehending, Analyzing, and Discussing Text
Motion Leadership in Action: More Skinny on Becoming Change Savvy
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Projecting Possibilities for Writers: The How, What, and Why of Designing Units of Study, K-5
The Fault in Our Stars
Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning
Shift Omnibus Edition (Silo, #2) (Wool, #6-8)
Wool
Everything Bad is Good for You
Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives
Wherever You Go, There You Are (ROUGH CUT)
Big Red Lollipop
Doctor Sleep (The Shining, #2)
Assessment in Perspective:  Focusing on the Reader Behind the Numbers
Marty McGuire
Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits
No More Independent Reading Without Support (Not This But That)
Learning Targets: Helping Students Aim for Understanding in Today's Lesson
Galaxy Zack: Hello, Nebulon
To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others
An Orange for Frankie
Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age
The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way
Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
John, Paul, George & Ben
Abe Lincoln's Dream
So What Do They Really Know?: Assessment That Informs Teaching and Learning
The Read-Aloud Handbook: Seventh Edition
Embedded Formative Assessment
Each Kindness
The 5th Wave (The 5th Wave, #1)
World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students

Books of Note

Favorite Fiction: The Wool trilogy by Hugh Howey

Humanity is sequestered to a silo underground, due to some event that made the surface of Earth uninhabitable. How the remaining members of civilization live and interact in this alternative world makes for a fascinating read. I have read the first two installments and plan to read the final book soon. If you investigate the back story on this series, you will discover the author self-published his writing online as a short story, in order to sustain ownership and to get feedback on how the story should proceed. Using his fans’ input, he crafted the rest of the Wool series, which then lead to a larger book deal. Is this the future of writing? If excellent science fiction like Wool is the result, I wouldn’t mind.

Suggested Nonfiction/Informative: The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

This resource should be in the home of every young family. Some hospitals hand this book to new mothers and fathers after delivery. Whenever a parent asks me about what they can do to help their child become a reader, my response is usually, “Read aloud to them, every day.” My school received a grant to promote reading aloud with our families. We will be hosting a book study on The Read Aloud Handbook with parents starting in January, along with putting up Little Free Libraries in our community. Look for a post on the Nerdy Book Club blog on January 4th to learn more about this essential title.

Recommended Paired Reading: The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley and World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students by Dr. Yong Zhao

Although I did not read both titles at the same time, I believe they would work well together if someone were studying education in the age of technology and globalization. In The Smartest Kids, Amanda Ripley follows three U.S. students as they participate in foreign exchange programs in South Korea, Finland, and Poland. That all three score higher than the U.S. on the PISA, an internationally-based standardized test, is no accident. This piece of investigative journalism gives the audience an anecdotal perspective of the difference between the U.S. educational system and these three countries. Although I felt the author gave too much credence to one assessment, she does make a compelling case that the U.S. does need to ramp up our expectations for students’ learning, especially in mathematics. Ripley also showcases the greater amount of respect other countries have for the teaching profession.

Where The Smartest Kids gives the reader an up close and personal report about education, World Class Learners provides a more aerial, 20,000 feet in the air point of view on learning. Dr. Zhao also looked at the PISA scores, and placed them side-by-side with an assessment on students’ engagement and entrepreneurship potential. The result: A strong correlation between high test scores and low creativity. The author, a professor in the University of Oregon’s College of Education, surmises that when schools focus on one right answer due to tests, students’ imagination and innovation skills are not as developed. When you combine this evidence with the fact that standardized test results cannot be used to teach more responsively, one wonders what we are really measuring and why. As Dr. Zhao astutely points out in his most recent post on his blog, “Global benchmarking can only give you the best of the past.”

Where their two philosophies converge is the belief that U.S. schools can do better. Whether it is through better teacher preparation programs, or through professional development focused on student interests and project-based learning, both authors believe life long learning and high expectations are the key to our country’s future success.

What’s On Deck? Books I Want to Read in 2014

Sophia's War: A Tale of the Revolution
The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains
The City of Mirrors (The Passage, #3)
Life Itself: A Memoir
Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance
Dust (Silo, #3)
Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age
High-Impact Instruction: A Framework for Great Teaching
Unmistakable Impact: A Partnership Approach for Dramatically Improving Instruction
Let the Great World Spin
Sunshine
The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.
Children Want to Write: Donald Graves and the Revolution in Children's Writing
Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man's Fundamentals for Delicious Living
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation
The Long Earth
The Abominable
Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time

Any thoughts on the titles and perspectives I share? What books did you thoroughly enjoy this year? What’s on your to-read pile for 2014? Please share in the comments.

Top Ten Tips for Reading Aloud

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1. Schedule It

Reading aloud shouldn’t be left to that few minutes before lunch. Richard Allington, in his ASCD article Every Child, Every Day, states that students should listen to a fluent adult read aloud every day; it is an essential element of reading instruction in classrooms. As a principal, I try to model this practice. My teachers schedule me in to read aloud in their classrooms for half hour time slots, anywhere from twice a week to once every two weeks.

2. Be Intentional

Classroom time is important, so my visits should be connected to learning. What helps are the learning targets posted on the board. As I visit classrooms, I can see the concepts being taught. This information gives me ideas for books that would work well with what students are studying. For example, poetry is a focus at 4th grade, which led me to read aloud Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.

3. Start Small

The first book I share usually rhymes, has a beat, is a captivating story and/or is short. These are the “can’t miss” stories, books that are guaranteed to capture the students’ attention. Titles that come to mind include Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin and Neville by Norman Juster at the primary level, and Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco and The Wretched Stone by Chris Van Allsburg for intermediate grades.

4. Assess Your Listeners

Teachers know that every class they inherit is different from year to year. To get a read on my new listeners, I pay attention to how the students respond as I read aloud to them. I use formative assessments to alter my instruction for learning. A great resource about formative assessment is Checking for Understanding by Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey. Strategies they recommend include noticing nonverbal cues like puzzled looks and boredom, as well as having student “Think-Pair-Share” during the story.

5. Plan Ahead

Classroom success comes to those prepared. For me, I don’t read aloud a book to a classroom until I have read it myself. This is the best way to determine if it will make a good read aloud. Did I have a hard time putting the book down? Would I recommend it to others after I finished it? Was it character or story driven? If I don’t have time to do this, I often refer to The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. It has great recommendations for read alouds as well as research and tips for supporting this practice. I have also nixed books I had high hopes for, but realized it is more of a read alone story upon review.

6. Build Stamina

Unfortunately, some kids enter school without a lot of stories read aloud to them. This is evident when we assess our five year olds and too many cannot even recognize sounds and letters. To expect kindergarteners to sit through twenty minutes of James and the Giant Peach on the first day of school may be unrealistic. Once I have Started Small (#3), I recognize their growing abilities to listen to stories with specific comments such as, “Wow, you sat for ten whole minutes while I read you A Day’s Work by Eve Bunting!”. For more on building reading stamina, check out The Daily Five by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser.

7. Pick the Right Text

Just because a book is an award winner doesn’t mean it will make a good read aloud. In fact, many of my favorites don’t have this recognition. I get recommendations from colleagues, local bookstores and on Goodreads. These experts help me find stories that have short chapters, limited dialogue, interesting plots, and characters kids can relate to. I also read aloud nonfiction and informational text. Two of my favorites are Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm by Jon Katz and Animals Nobody Loves by Seymour Simon.

8. Set Up the Story

In Strategies That Work, Stephanie Harvey describes the process of introducing the think-aloud (a guided version of reading aloud). The idea is to get students thinking during the story, not just at the end. Reading a book cold doesn’t activate students prior knowledge, which is necessary for getting the most out of it. I start a story by first reading the title and the author’s name. Next, I might ask an open ended question related to the book or do a picture walk and make predictions. This modeling creates a bridge to developing independent readers.

9. End as You Began

As I read, I give opportunities for students to predict what may happen next, ponder a question, or make an interesting observation. Once completed, we go back to how we started. For example, when I have read aloud The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles, the students and I first discussed what “courage” means. I collected their responses and started the story. As I read, I asked students to identify examples of courage and marked that text with a Post-it note. At the end, we took our notes and revised our previous definition as a whole group. Other fun ways to wrap things up are writing a book review and doing book talks on stories in the same genre or by the same author.

10. Stick With It

No doubt there are days when I feel like I don’t have time to get into classrooms and read. That is why scheduling it in my calendar is so critical. I also remind myself of all the benefits: Kids are introduced to authors and stories that might not otherwise have been exposed to, both students and teachers see how much I value literature, I am able to stay current on what kids are reading, and I connect with students in a positive and fun way. I cannot think of many things I do as a principal that are more important than sharing myself as a reader in school.

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