Last Thursday, one of my classes finished the novel The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Each day I would begin class by reading one short chapter aloud. And, each day, they would whine when I finished "aww...c'mon...just a little bit more...half a chapter!" That story might have, in my opinion, one of the greatest endings of any book out there, and they agreed. As I read the plot-twisting ending on the final page, two of the girls had tears in their eyes and three of them jumped up and down excitedly screaming.
This is why read-alouds are still valuable, even for older kids--it's the best way I've found in my 10+ years of teaching to build a love of reading, especially in reluctant readers. Nearly any time I share with a parent, fellow teacher, or administrator that I read aloud, even to middle school kids, the reaction at first seems to be hmm...is that really a good use of instructional time? And that's a valid question. But here's a few of the reasons why I would (and do!) argue that it is.
1) My first is the one I see as most valuable, and it's the same one I mentioned earlier--helping to develop a love of reading and storytelling. For emerging or struggling readers, the P-R-O-C-E-S-S of reading is so demanding and tedious, they often give up on a book early on. Listening to a novel from beginning to end--especially one with a strong ending--will help them to see that sometimes the reward is worth the struggle. Last year I read a novel to my students and, a few days after we finished, the librarian said "ok, why are so many of your students coming in asking for books by Joseph Bruchac? Do you need me to order some of his books?" He was the author of the read-aloud we had just finished. It was especially heartwarming to me because some of the students who asked her read well below the level of that book or were students who had told me they "hate" reading (I had a middle school group that was reading at a primer reading level so finding books they could decode, yet still enjoy, was a challenge).
2) It exposes students to genres and authors they may have never thought of trying--and usually end up liking. Most students get stuck in a rut of reading the same genre, just as adults do. I remember telling a class we were going to read a suspense/thriller and a few of the girls groaned. By the end of the book, they shared that they were pleasantly surprised how much they loved it. My recommendation would be to try and make each novel very different in terms of themes, genres, and authors.
3) It serves as a common novel you ALL can discuss and use as a reference point during lessons. Sometimes it's hard during a lesson to think on your feet of a story that ALL students would be very familiar with. Having a common story that the whole class shares allows you to reference a book they're all recently familiar with. Whether it's teaching point of view, theme, main idea, etc. you can always pull from that common story to provide examples or make references, which is difficult with differentiated novel studies or literature circles (which I definitely recommend and use for instructional purposes--I'm just referring here to references you need to make during whole group mini-lessons).
4) It's not as time consuming as you might think. I choose books with short chapters or, if the story has longer chapters, I try to stick to about four pages a day, so the daily read-aloud might take all of ten minutes. Obviously, lengthier novels wouldn't be wise choices--they just take too long to get through. I probably read 4-5 novels per school year and it would be the first thing to get the axe on early release days or any other day when time is cut short. Some teachers will tell me "I don't have time for read-alouds". My response to that is always to analyze your typical day or period and see if you can identify small pockets of time that are wasted on inefficient procedures or routines where you can trim the fat. Sometimes tightening up your morning routine, becoming more efficient with your procedure for gathering supplies/materials, or even sharpening your classroom management can easily add ten minutes to your day/period that were previously wasted.
5) Novel "celebration" days. After finishing a novel as a read-aloud, I disguise quality, engaging, challenging activities under the guise of a book "party" or "celebration". I will set up stations around the room, usually cross-curricular, and allow students on these days to deviate from the usual schedule and celebrate the book by rotating through the stations in groups. Each station addresses a skill or standard that ties to the book but is also one we would be working on anyway. I try to provide some fun decorations or treats that tie in as well. For instance, after finishing Because of Winn-Dixie with a 2nd grade class, I used die-cuts of dogs to label the names of the stations ("writing", "math", etc.) and, at the end of the day, we had egg salad sandwiches and pickles, a nod to the pivotal party scene in the story (although all but one passed on the egg salad!). The students LOVE these celebrations and I find that they are not only highly engaged throughout the day, they also produce some great work and I am able to pull plenty of grades from the stations--double-win!
If you do decide to venture out and read novels aloud to older students, I think you'll find it's worth the time. Just choose your books wisely. To really get the bang for your buck, choose a book a level or two higher than the instructional level of the grade you're teaching and be sure to squeeze the most out of that time any way that you can--pulling vocabulary words that you can discuss and modeling strategies through thinking aloud.
Please leave any questions or other recommendations in the comments and I'll be happy to respond.
As always, thanks for reading & share with anyone who you think would like the info!