The Cornerstone of Wisdom

By Tony Coppola

“Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

One of the many best parts of my teaching day is when I get to read a good book out loud to my class.

I’m an elementary school teacher. I’ve been teaching children how to read for a little over two decades now. If I could do it all over, though, I’d focus even more time and effort on nurturing in children the love of books, stories, and reading. I’d center the culture of my class even more so in literature by way of the read aloud.

In fact, something tells me we could further transform education if we slowed our fast paced teaching days down and read more books to children.

The love of stories and reading, in my opinion, is the most impactful desire related to lifelong learning we can nurture in our selves first, and then in our students.

Upon reflecting on this topic, I’ve decided I think a most powerful tool in my teaching tool bag is the read aloud. I mean, the calmest, most peaceful part of my teaching day is when I’m reading a good book to my students.

As a quick side note, I’ve gotten pretty good at reading out loud. I think it helps me want to be a better writer too. I suggest we all slow down and read something out loud to someone we love every day, as well as spend a little time writing.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that students are engaged in a different way when listening to a good story than when reading a good story on their own. Especially when the readability and content of the book is above the listener’s independent reading level. It appears to free up their minds and imagination as they aren’t also working to understand, or even simply decode, more complex vocabulary. It appears they are able to attend to ideas that expand their metacognition, maybe.

While listening to stories, children are able to stop the reader and ask questions. They engage more deeply and wonder about characters, the meaning of words, understanding experiences they’ve never had, and so much more. They laugh out loud at times, and gasp and clutch each other at other times.

I’ve never second guessed my decision to read a book to my class rather than doing other activities. I don’t think anyone has ever thought or muttered the words, “I think I read too many books to my students.” My gut tells me most teachers think they would read more to their students if they had more time.

If all we did were read and talk about books, we’d be a whole lot better. Anyhow, that’s how I feel at times. Except I also know the impact writing and solving problems has on the heart, mind, and guts of a person.

It’s not about fitting read alouds into our daily schedules, it’s about scheduling the most impactful activities that best support the books we read to our students into our days. Even if the only benefit to a read aloud is to enjoy a story, it’s worth the time. Not much is more kind than reading a book to a child.

Frazzled? Stop and read a book to your students.

Do you want your students to be better readers? Then read to them.

Do you want your students to be better thinkers? Then read to them.

Do you want your students to be better writers? Then read to them.

Do you want your students to be better problem solvers? Then read to them.

Do you want your students to be better citizens? Then read to them.

I love reading aloud. I would argue that nothing is more important than reading aloud to children. It creates culture, bonding, and shared story experiences.

I’m not planning how I’m going to add more technology into my day. I’m planning which books I’m going to read aloud to my class.

Show up and with intention deliver what you know to be most crucial.

While we want children to learn how to read, the ultimate goal of reading aloud isn’t for this purpose. Rather, building relationships.

Reading to students is one of the most impactful ways to nurture relationships with students.

In all that we do as teachers, I believe one of our highest aspirations should be fostering a love for learning. And I think reading to them is the cornerstone to accomplishing this goal.

Stories are what connects all of us together. For younger children hearing stories. For older children too. And young adults. Heck, older adults learn by way of hearing stories, right? Even the scriptures say, “Faith comes by hearing.”

I guess my advice to anyone feeling uncomfortable with reading out loud is to see if you can find a HOME RUN read aloud. Do you know what I mean? Often beginning readers find a book they just love and read it over and over. It’s like finding a first love. It can be the same for reading books to children. Find that first love and read it out loud over and over again.

Reading is the most important area of learning we focus on as teachers. It’s a ludicrous idea to argue otherwise, in my opinion.

What do you think?

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