This topic may be the most important topic in this collection of texts about reading aloud. Too often, reading aloud means that the adults start on the first page of the book, and read, read, read until they reach the last page of the book. Children only listen; they do not talk. That is reading to children.
Instead, we want reading with children. The difference is that in reading to children, the children are entirely or mostly listening to us read. They are not speaking. As a result, their brains may be less fully engaged. In contrast, in reading with children, yes, we adults are reading aloud from the book, but we are also having a dialog with the children about topics related to the book and also on topics that are not directly related to the book but topics that the children are thinking about. Reading with children is a more wholistic experience, because more of children’s lives and emotions are involved.
Some books for children who are just learning to read have only about 12 pages with only one or two sentences on each page. In reading to children, we can finish such books of 12 pages in about three minutes. But that kind of read aloud session does not sound like much fun for the children or for us, especially if we reread the same book multiple times. In contrast, when reading with children, a read aloud session, even with very short books, becomes a more social experience that can last 30 minutes or longer.
The slogan to remember is: “Reading aloud is a journey, not a race.” The longer the session lasts, the better. You may be surprised to hear this, but the key focus of reading aloud is not the book. The book is just a tool to launch a discussion about whatever topic. If you start reading and the dialog moves away from the book, that is fine. You can return to the book another time, if you and the children want.
One activity not to do too often on your read aloud journey is to quiz students on language, such as spelling or word definitions. In other words, do not turn a read aloud session into the kind of classroom session that makes children dislike school. Not only will that discourage a love of reading in the children, it also is not the most effective way to increase children’s language and reading skills.
What the research says is that when children hear and read in a language and they understand what they are hearing and reading in that language, they subconsciously learn the language. This learning includes spelling, vocabulary, and grammar. When we read aloud to children, they hear language and when they are old enough to look at the book while we are reading aloud, children begin to understand that the black marks on the page have meaning, and they begin to recognize individual words.
However, for children to make much progress via us reading aloud to them, we need to do it regularly, and they need to want us to read aloud to them regularly. Thus, we want to figure out how to make the read aloud sessions enjoyable. That is where the dialog is important. But, when we are dialoging, there is nothing for children to read. That is okay, because when we are dialoging with the children, they are comprehending what they hear. Whether children comprehend language via listening or via reading or via both, their language competence is growing. At the same time, the children are bonding with us and learning from us via the content of the dialog, and we are learning about them and about the wonderfully complicated and mysteriously changing world of childhood. Fun!
Summary: The dialog we have with children while we are reading aloud is as important or even more important than the book itself. “Reading aloud is a journey not a race.”