City Schools and Read Aloud Day

Reading is a very important skill! For those of us who can read, it is difficult to imagine life without reading. Think of any job or career – some reading is required, varying only in the quantity and level of difficulty. Think of the countless ways in your personal life that reading is related to managing your home and health care. Even if you don’t “read for fun,” recreation involves reading directions, requirements, pros and cons of equipment , maps, schematics etc. Our daily lives are filled with opportunities to read!

Reading is one link in the communication process: hearing, speaking, reading, writing. Babies/language learners of any age must first learn/understand the words spoken to them and then use/speak those words to communicate. Reading , in any language, is decoding symbols to get information. Writing, in any language, is encoding symbols to give information. Regardless of our age and level of education, we use all four communication links in our daily lives.

In an earlier news article, Marietta City Schools Curriculum Director, Jona Hall, described the language program implemented this year in kindergarten through fifth grade. In each classroom, students are grouped to work on a variety of comprehension skills using a leveled fiction/non fiction book which they can read with 90 percent accuracy. Phonics is taught and practiced at all grade levels using Project Read, a multi-sensory way to learn and apply sound/symbol connections. Write Tools is a fantastic program that reinforces the reading and writing connection as students learn composition and comprehension skills. Marietta’s elementary teachers are to be commended for implementing this comprehensive language program which intentionally integrates all four links in the communication process.

One of the greatest challenges for elementary teachers is the increasing number of students who have limited language and background knowledge. Entering preschool and kindergarten with a limited vocabulary immediately impacts the child’s ability to access the curriculum.

Recently I observed fifth-grade reading groups meeting with their teacher. Each group was reading a non-fiction book on a topic selected to peak student interest and correlate with upcoming science and social studies topics. Students had read independently prior to coming to the table for discussion. The teacher’s skillful questioning facilitated discussion and required students to use high level thinking skills. The teacher and I also learned from the discussion. Only one student in the group knew of a canal near Marietta. One student knew that there are canal waterways in Florida. Having background knowledge helps readers make connections that strengthen comprehension and critical reading skills.

Communication skills not only impact academics, they also impact a student’s interpersonal social skills. Our guidance counselor, Sarah Miller, teaches a variety of skills in classrooms and in small groups. ie. how to ask to join a game, how to invite someone to play, strategies to use when someone says or does something to hurt your feelings, how to be a friend.

Recently, after a second incident of name calling between two boys, I opted for a different consequence. During lunch recess for 9 days, the boys met with me for a game of Sorry. Surprise! We all had fun. I’m hoping that the behaviors I observed will transfer to the playground.

For many reasons, counselors and teachers are recognizing an increasing number of students needing intentional instruction in “soft skills”, also called interpersonal and social emotional skills. So, the question is “What can we , teachers and parents, do to help our students develop better communication and interpersonal skills?”

Lit World and Scholastic, the global children’s publishing company, recommend reading aloud/sharing stories. These groups are co-sponsors of World Read Aloud Day.

Why Read Aloud? Reading aloud to children every day puts them almost a year ahead of children who do not receive daily Read Aloud.

Read Aloud creates a shared experience and an opportunity to explore ideas and feelings. At its best, Read Aloud is not the time for low level comprehension questions. It is a time to talk about the character and how the character was able to manage/resolve a problem. Read Aloud provides opportunities to talk about those critical “soft skills” in an indirect, less obvious, less personal way.

Many parents who Read Aloud with young children tend to stop when their child learns to read. Primary teachers are more likely to Read Aloud than intermediate teachers who feel the pressure of curriculum requirements.

Recognizing the increasing communication/social emotional needs of our children, it makes sense for all parents and teachers to regularly include READ ALOUD opportunities at home and school each week.

I hope you will celebrate World READ ALOUD DAY on Feb. 1, and then make READ ALOUD a regular part of every week. Together we can CHANGE THE WORLD!

Cheryl Cook is principal at Harmar Elementary School.