How Reading-Aloud Made Me the Teacher and Person I Am Today.

My very first day of teaching preschool in Massachusetts, thirty-two years ago, was both career and life altering.  Lindy, my co-teacher, asked me to read the picture books to children each day after our Morning Meeting.  Sure (gulp)!  I was new, scared, and unfamiliar with many children’s books.  I had not been read to as a child, except for The Five Chinese Brothers from my grandmother.  I still remember the page that opens sideways, with the brother who could stretch his legs.  One book, and to this day I remember it vividly.

The book I read to the children on that first day of school was Swimmy, by Leo Lionni.  It was magical for me, and for the children.  The story line, the art, the engineering, the words… it was a taste of something I knew I had to have.  And, I couldn’t get enough.

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The next few decades I consumed children’s books.  I realized that the more I read aloud, the more the children wanted to hear stories and be read to.  I displayed books in my classroom front-facing, so children were drawn to picking up and ‘reading’ the books. In this way, the children wanted to handle, hold, and turn the pages of books.  This was a big deal!  It was true hands-on learning, with exploding questions and interest.  I was the yeast in the dough, or perhaps the books were the yeast.  Oh, our Morning Meetings grew.  We had to include a children’s dictionary on the bookshelf so we could look up words that were new.  That was fun!

By this time I had become picky about good books.  Whenever I read a good book, it sparked so many questions and conversations, that sometimes it took ‘forever’ to get through the book.  The first time I read Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky, it took forty minutes to finish reading the book.  I started with the inside cover, a picture of the courtyard, and simply asked questions; “Where is this?”  “Does this look like Massachusetts?”  “What is different?”

Reading picture books triggered big discussions.  I often stopped to ask questions.  Sometimes I would simply say, “Oh, dear…” in mid-sentence and let the children grab onto that rope.  Yes, I was throwing out a lifeline, a learning line, and it worked.  It was exciting, always engaging.

Before long, I started reading chapter books before rest time.  This was unconventional for preschoolers, yet it felt right because children were on their nap mats and needed to hear stories without seeing pictures.  I started with Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, and have never looked back.  The first thing children learned was ‘you make the pictures in your head’.  This is thrilling, because we now have non-stop reading and multiple discussions, without pictures.  Thirty minutes of pretty intense reading-aloud.  My chapter books include the best of the best.

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My teaching had become language based and child centered.  Often there were ‘moments’, things that happened because we were reading all the time.  Reading had spilled over into my curriculum.  The day we had set up a restaurant in housekeeping, children were ‘reading’ menus and ‘writing’ orders on clipboards.  I was spelling out the words to one child and listening to questions about the menu from another child.  I doubt these moments would have happened had I not read so often in the classroom.

I wanted to tell families what happened, about moments of learning, and of course about reading-aloud.  So, I started to write more information in my newsletters, and include details.  I wrote, and I wrote, sharing small moments and relating those moments to the big picture in education.

I attended a teacher seminar, and Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, was the keynote speaker.  As he spoke I wanted to jump up and rush over to the hundreds of teachers in the room, screaming, “Are you listening to this man?”  “Do you realize how important his message is?”  Instead I wrote him a letter and included one of my newsletters to families that spoke about the importance of reading-aloud.  That sparked his interest in my chapter reading, and he visited my classroom to watch.  I’m included in the latest version of his million copy bestselling book.

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My public library asked me to direct a library reading group for second and third graders.  This was another new adventure in reading.  I read The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes, among many wonderful books.  Again, these were new books to me, and I loved it.  This past summer I embraced YA books, thanks to reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  I read every Kate DiCamillo book I could lay my hands on.  Every one.

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My reading and reading-aloud continues to grow.  Thank you Read-Aloud West Virginia for getting the message of how important reading is to the public.  We are making a difference.

Jennie

About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
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41 Responses to How Reading-Aloud Made Me the Teacher and Person I Am Today.

  1. Lynn Kessler says:

    Thank you, Jennie, for sharing your wonderful reading story! It is beautifully told, as always!

  2. I do believe, based on nothing but hearsay and my own experience, that many of those kids grow up to have an ear for language. They’ll pay attention to how the words sound as well as to how they look on the page. If they write, they’ll be better writers. Maybe they’ll make music. Probably they’ll get into arguments with tin-eared teachers and editors who want to punctuate entirely according to “the rules,” paying no attention to cadence and sound, but they’ll carry with them the knowledge that language can sing. More power to them, and to you!

  3. Oh, how I wish you could have been one of my teachers or the teacher for my children. Thank you.

  4. reocochran says:

    Jennie, I liked every book you included here. “Charlotte’s Web” is a favorite and my grandson liked “Wonder.” I also enjoy “Make Way for Ducklings” by E. B. Webb. I read the book, “The Yearling” to my 6th graders first year out of college. I also liked “The Borrowers” and while growing up “Cheaper by the Dozen.” Smiles, Robin

  5. Another spot-on post. Reading is SO important and your choices are great. I remember hearing Jim Trelease speak many years ago (I’ll have to look for you in his latest book). At my library we’re interviewing Youth Services librarians for a full time position. We’ve had six come in so far and one part of their interview is to read us all a picture book. They all read the same one and it’s been fascinating to see how their presentations differ. StoryTime is a real art.

    • jlfatgcs says:

      Thanks so much, Marcia! This one really hits close to home, as I truly believe reading aloud is the single most important thing I do. When I herd Jim Trelease speak years ago, I wanted to jump up and tell everyone in the room that what he was saying was IT. Instead I wrote him a letter telling him so, and included one of my newsletters to parents. He contacted me a year later, asked if he could visit my class room (he spent most of the day!); I feel so honored to be in his book. I’m in chapter 3, along with a photo. Story time really is an art. I also do chapter reading at our town library. I’d love to have heard your interviewees read.

  6. Awesome story. I love your metaphor of saying you were the “yeast” ……ingenious.
    I own the book “Wonder” too. It was on the best sellers list at Barnes & Noble in California when I lived there.

    My name is Paulette-L Motzko and I am glad you liked my recent story on Children Are Our Future Now.

    I do another blog you might like….

    http://www.TotallyInspiredPC.wordpress.com.

    Keep writing and I will keep reading!

  7. What a great idea! And it works for writers wanting to understand how other writer’s write successfully — including adult books….(that, and copying works by hand — not typing). Too often we forget that writing is meant to be savored. And to do that, we must remember to take a breath.

  8. John Kraft says:

    Wonderful!
    With reading and listening skills the entire world is open to them.

  9. Purvi Trivedi says:

    Jennie, Your blog has guided me in picking out some great books to read with the kids. I didn’t realize the value of reading out loud and the immense impact it has in connecting with children until just a few years ago. Now reading in the evenings has become a way for us to experience a new world together. The books have triggered conversations about places in the world, diversity, strength and lots of laughs. Thank you!

    • Jennie says:

      I am so glad! Yes, reading aloud good books does just that. I am happy that you have found this for you and your family. Wait till you see the difference it makes as the years unfold. Many thanks!

  10. Thanks for linking up to my short story contest!

  11. Darlene says:

    So pleased you entered the short story contest as well. An excellent entry.

    • Jennie says:

      Thanks, Darlene. I’m glad you liked it. Your story was so deeply personal and moving (not to mention wonderful). It helped me choose a post to submit.

  12. Pingback: Short Story Winner for October | Stevie Turner, Indie Author.

  13. Reblogged this on K. D. Dowdall and commented:
    This is a wonderful real life story of how an amazing teacher gives voices to children by reading aloud and helps to create a love of learning through reading. It also makes a world of difference for parents to give the gift of reading aloud to children as both parent and child learn to share and the memories that are made create a bond that lasts forever. Thank you Jennie and Happy Thanksgiving.

  14. dgkaye says:

    Jennie, you’re a born teacher. You should be on the board of education. 🙂

  15. I’m going to be interning in a classroom for the very first time next semester, and really appreciated your, “Sure (gulp)!” moment, because I am slightly terrified xD I love your posts very much, thank you!

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