I was interested and chuffed to read this intelligent and helpful piece by Bianca Hewes.
Over the years I have realised that setting a novel for students to read on their own, quietly in class or at home, is just unrealistic. Most students find it really hard, simply because reading a novel is not something they do often. I’ve found that reading a novel aloud to students actually engages them more in deep and critical thinking. We have some wonderful conversations about characters, motivations, style, plot etc.
Read the whole piece at The importance of reading aloud to teenagers | Bianca Hewes.
When I taught English, which was only a little over a year ago, I would always read the novel with the students, all the way up to Year 12. Although this approach is often derided as being teacher-centric and dull, I found that students were most able to engage with the words when they appear aloud in the room, and when they were discussed and brought to life. Language, for the most part, works better aloud.
Bianca’s approach sounds terrific, based on my experience, and there are a couple of things that I would add.
I have students in something like a circle (given that a circle isn’t always possible) and we go around the room. Every student reads at least a sentences. Some students will read more as their confidence increases, but I generally don’t let them go more than a page before moving to the next person. When my term comes up, I will read about a page before going to the next person. If the flow is not happening, I’ll do a whole page. And if the flow is really happening, I might only do two sentences.
In my first year of teaching, I would let students off if they really objected, or in the case of students with different learning needs, if their integration said they were not up to it. But I ended up with only half the class at best actively involved. At some point I just started expecting that everyone would read, and everyone did. It’s only a sentence, after all. And everyone did. And as they did, they improved.
As we read, I throw in provocations and I encourage students to do the same, something they quickly take to. And I make jokes about it. And I throw in silly additions, famously about Nostrils dying in Runner, to see if people are paying attention and just to have a bit of fun. Experiencing a well-written story is fun, and it makes a massive difference when you act like you are having fun.
It also helps to keep the pace up. Nothing kills a story faster than reading for ten minutes then spending forty minutes doing basic comprehension questions. It will take all term to finish the novel, and suck all the enjoyment out of it. A good story has narrative pull, dragging you along to the next chapter, and it’s counter productive to fight that.
I get get students to tackle topics and issues that we encounter in their 15 minutes daily writing topics, but I don’t do standard comprehension questions as we read.
As Bianca said, it really helps when you really delve into the story, asking “why” and “what does it tell us” questions.
Why did Charlie feel bad about what happened to Nostrils? [Runner]
Why does Joseph decide to draw his father after Tom dies [Running Man]
What does it tell us about Wes Hayden that he is happy to let his brother off? [Montana 1948]
What does it tell us about Eduard Keller that he gives this piece of music to Paul? [Maestro]
The things here is not to elicit one correct answer, but to explore the possibilities of meaning and to keep going to explore deeper meaning, building from one student response to the next.
So, all in all, I don’t know if this approach is popular, but I do know that I’ve had substantial success with it, both in terms of engagement and deep comprehension as demonstrated by the students. And I don’t just mean repeating the plot. I mean really understanding what the text means and how it is constructed which, as far as I am concerned, is the real game here.