Sunday, November 29, 2009

Not So Teachable Moments

Have you sat at the back of your classroom recently? I feel like I learn so much from watching others teach. When we are in the throws of what we do, rarely do we have time to take notice of Lara’s dazed look, Tim staring out the window, Tammy’s disappointment at not being able to share, Luis’s look of glee at being right. Teaching is so…well, frenetic.

However, when you put some distance between yourself and the class, you start to notice things you never noticed before—important things, like for example, how we teach read aloud.

I have long been a proponent of using read aloud to teach skills in meaningful contexts. As I sat and watched my colleagues use read aloud to support reading instruction, I felt like I was looking in a mirror. In their expressions, I recognized my own. In their words, I heard my own. In their shortcomings, I saw my own.

“Shortcomings?” you ask. Interactive read aloud seems like one of the most straightforward approaches out there. But as I watched, my colleagues talked about characters and themes and morals. In addition, they made predictions and asked questions. And thirty to forty minutes later, the read aloud ended.

While the many skills and strategies that came up during the read aloud were important, it took thirty to forty minutes to complete. It is no wonder Lara looks dazed and Tim is staring out the window. They are getting bored. And possibly confused. “Why are we reading this book?”they wonder.

Read alouds offer many teaching opportunities. Watching my colleagues reminded me that when we are using read alouds to teach what children need to know to become better readers, we need to be very conscious of what we want children to learn. While it is tempting to follow the conversation in every direction possible, we need to remember that that decision comes with the risk of losing our purpose in the middle of the conversation. Some kids might get it, but others will leave simply thinking, “what was the point of that?”

As teachers, we are trained to seize teachable moments and no doubt, great children’s literature is filled with them. However, do we teach more when we teach less? When it comes to read aloud, the answer, unequivocally, is “yes.”

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