How Not to Teach Kids to Read Aloud

February 7, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Posted in Reading with Kids | 5 Comments

My stepbunny, Sweetie Junior, is in high school now, so I figure we only have a few years left to salvage what we can of her education in a third-rate school district.  Here’s some new motivation that has lit a fire under my chair.

We were talking around the dinner table, and the subject of audio books came up.  SJ mentioned that “we” were listening to an audio book in which the narrator would make a mistake, say, “Oh, wait,” and re-read the mistaken sentence.  There appeared to be no post-production editing whatsoever.  “What book was that?” I wanted to know, “I want to make sure I don’t accidentally listen to it.”  “It was something about, like, Four Aprils,” she replied.  I asked if she meant Across Five Aprils, which I knew she’d read for school.  That was it.

Then a sinking feeling took hold of me.  I had assumed she and her mother were listening to this shoddy audio book, but now I wasn’t so sure.  “Who’s we?  Where were you listening to this book?”  “In school,” she said.

I froze.  “Do you mean to tell me you sit in class and listen to an audio book?”  “Yeah,” she said, “the teacher has, like, stuff to do.”

This explains so much.

I dropped my face into my hand and shook my head.  Then I tried to explain how important it is for kids to get every possible opportunity to practice reading out loud.  My man Rocket Scientist chimed in that it’s really embarrassing to mispronounce something when you’re giving a presentation at work.

The other things I’m wondering are, a) what the Sam Hill is the teacher doing during active class time that he couldn’t do during free periods or in the evening?  and b) where did they dig up this amateur production, that in no way could possibly be an improvement on the kids taking turns to read?

See, you’ll never find out what your kids are really doing in class.  You ask them how their day was and they say Okay.  You ask if they learned anything interesting and they may have something to share.  But no amount of probing is going to uncover fun facts such as, My teachers are incompetent, or They quit caring years ago, or I may not make it through college at this rate.

We’re finishing The Knife of Never Letting Go tonight.  I’m starting to wonder how we can find a way to do two books a week instead of one.  Twelve years of schooling isn’t that much, really, when you come down to it – especially in some places.


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  1. I thought I’d heard everything, but I guess I haven’t.
    Poor Sweetie Junior.

  2. […] Audio Books: a Perfect Blend of Information and Entertainment […]

  3. This gives me a big 😦 Let us know if you do anything about it.

  4. I know that I’m a few days late responding to this post, but what can I say…I starred it and am only just now making my rounds! 🙂

    I’m on the fence with this post, and I can only speak as a teacher (7th grade English) and not as a parent. The use of audio recordings in class is actually quite helpful. For example, right now we are reading Touching Spirit Bear* and the first portion of the class I read out loud to model fluency, inflection, et al. I rarely stop in between paragraphs to ask questions because it breaks up the story and frustrates. I will ask questions after I’ve finished the chapter. Now I love to read out loud. I have mastered reading and spying on students to see if they’re following along. Why then, would I wish to have an audio recording? Because I have six classes straight through, and quite simply, by the seventh hour my voice is spent.

    I’m confused about the recording having errors? Is this a teacher recording herself and then shrugging off her mistakes? Or is it a company’s recording? In which I would ask for a refund!

    I agree that you have every right to be perturbed if the teacher hits play, never does a comprehension check, and then gives busy work or other lame assessments.

    * (complete side note, but I had to share because it made me giddy with excitement. A few of my nonreaders came into class shouting, “Are we reading today, are we reading? It’s the only reason why I came to school!”)

    • I have fond memories of listening to my grade school teachers read aloud to us each year. We would get 20-30 minutes right after lunch. I remember reading “James and the Giant Peach” and “Where the Red Fern Grows” this way. That being said, the practice stopped after 5th grade, when we were 10 years old. We also spent probably twice that amount of time taking turns reading aloud, and that began in first grade. I would think by freshman year of high school that the students should either be reading the material at home, or reading aloud in class. Having attended school myself, I can’t really see the benefit for teenagers of exclusively passive listening rather than reading aloud. But I’d love to discuss it!

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