"Few children learn to love books by themselves. Someone has to lure them into the wonderful world of the written word; someone has to show them the way."
A Father Reads to His Children
The New Haven school system has recently proclaimed that trade books are the primary medium for teaching children how to read. This approach will prove challenging to even the best classroom teacher. Teachers will no longer be able to depend on the textbook and workbook approach to reading; we will have to be more innovative and creative. In addition to reading as part of the daily curriculum, students will be expected to do supplemental reading on their own. Group activities will include small group discussions of books read, along with supplemental exercises to explore characters, settings, historical perspectives, etc. What better way to bring about this reading "revolution" than by setting a positive example every day of the school year—by reading aloud to the class? Old-fashioned teaching methods associated with reading and reciting lost out to the invention of the ditto machine and more recently to photocopy machines. Educational researchers are now blaming the use of written busy work for the general lack of interest—even boredom-.children feel toward reading. The challenge for teachers today is to keep their students interested in reading purely for the sake of enjoyment, because reading is fundamental to acquiring other forms of news and information.
"If we could get our parents to read to their preschool children fifteen minutes a day, we could revolutionize the schools."
Dr. Ruth Love, Superintendent, Chicago Public Schools (1981)
Even though our students are older, we can still stress to them the importance of reading aloud. As teachers we can invite the parents to our classrooms for reading activities, for storytelling, for sharing life experiences. Our students need to be drawn beyond their own boundaries, and to feel important and positive about who they are. Reading is a key vehicle through which to accomplish this. Children are members of a society that needs to know and understand them. Reading and talking about the characters in various books and stories gives them a basis of comparison for themselves and for people they know. Life's lessons found in reading go beyond relating to characters in stories; they include introducing the reader to situations and conflicts that occur in all walks of life. Reading provides children with strategies for how to cope with and resolve these problematic situations. Through reading we can establish that there is a sameness of human needs that young people share. What better way to do this than by class discussions about the books we are reading together?
I have prepared a unit of eight books to be read aloud to fifth-grade students. Over the past few years, we have taken part in the city wide "Read Aloud Day" but I have usually found it a chore to complete the book that is so generously donated to our class library. Last year I discovered R. L. Stine's "Goosebumps" and "Fear Street" series of books. My class and I were delighted to be so entertained; every chapter ended with us wanting to continue to see what would happen next. Sometimes we would read the first paragraph of the next chapter because we just couldn't wait; students would actually sneak a peek if I left the book lying on my desk. These books are not written to a specific gender, race, or age. They are both silly and scary, just plain entertaining and fun.
I believe that I have found other books that the students will enjoy as much as they do the R.L. Stine series. I want to expose them to other authors who have written books that they can compare to the ones they so enjoy. We will read these books together and form a means of comparison, a literature appreciation course so to speak. The beauty of reading aloud is that everyone can participate; the activities can be done both as a class and in small groups. In addition to the topics for discussion at the end of each summary, the class will talk about how the books are alike and how they are different. All of the books are supposed to be an adventure, which (according to Webster) is:
1. Hazard; risk; chance.
2. An enterprise of hazard; a bold undertaking in which hazards are to be encountered, and the issue is staked upon unforeseen events.
3. A remarkable occurrence in one's personal history; a striking event; as, the adventures of one's life.
I am sure that each book fits the broad definition of adventure and will easily lend itself to an in-depth discussion during and after the reading. As the teacher I will have a general plan for discussion of each book, but I will be seeking to create an atmosphere of spontaneity and curiosity as we move into questions and answers concerning each text. The children's insights and perspective on each book are what is most important, and my role will be to facilitate their sense of discovery. Remember that this is to be enjoyable for both student and teacher!