Friday, February 6, 2009

Reading Aloud Allowed

I can't remember exactly when I was first introduced to Taylor Mali. I saw a mention of his monologue "What a Teacher Makes," a piece that has been plagiarized via email for quite awhile, in an online professional journal. Since then, I've enjoyed several of his performance pieces on You Tube. I share his piece "The Impotence of Proofreading" with students as they realize that the spell check feature of Microsoft Word is not, after all, infallible. Mali is a teacher and a poet--a slam poet, in fact--and his edgy performances especially speak to me as an educator and communicator.

Yesterday, I discovered a new Mali video, "Reading Allowed," that begins with a teasing innuendo but delivers a message that strikes a chord with me. The title plays on the homonyms "allowed" and "aloud." Anyone who reads my blog knows how much I enjoy audiobooks. My love probably started long before I could drive. My warmest memories of fourth grade in Mrs. Knotts class are the books she read to us, especially all the Little House books. I hated for her to stop (a feeling akin to that I have when I arrive at my garage before a good stopping place in the audio.) We would plead, "Read just a little more." I can remember some teachers who would occasionally paraphrase as they read aloud. I could tell the difference.

I wonder how much teachers in lower grades still read to students. I think it's strange that showing a movie in class is justified; reading aloud is not. After all, listening is included as a necessary skill in the standard course of study. Listening, I believe, is far more active than viewing. Even when I taught high school seniors, I occasionally engaged in what I unashamedly called "Story Time with Ms. Nancy." Every Christmas, I read aloud Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory." My voice still breaks at the end. I read portions of Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that had been omitted from the student anthology. I read the final chapter of John Gardner's novel Grendel.

In this week's Sunday paper, the cartoon Zits had Jeremy and his mom uncovering some of the books she had read to him when he was young. In the last frame, he is sprawled in her lap asking her to read them to him again. I thought of the books my own children had loved to hear over and over and over. (I'll admit, I finally hid Go Dogs, Go under the coffee table, after I had virtually committed it to memory.) I remembered my friend Bebe who had read Where the Red Fern Grows with her daughter Jennifer during the middle school years, each of them alternately reading a chapter at a time and weeping together.

My friend Amy took a little longer to get through the Harry Potter series because her husband read the books aloud to her. How much better than watching movie re-runs together!

In a sermon awhile back, my dad briefly described each of his five daughters, naming me as the one who called long distance to read a poem to him. (In my defense, I'll have to say that he's done his share of reading to me.) Reading aloud is one sure way that we shared a common experience with a text I loved. Hand it to him, and he might read it. Read aloud, and he's a captive audience.

I believe that children who prefer video games and television shows to books may just need a good dose of oral storytelling. They need someone to take the time to read aloud. Maybe sitting together, looking at the same text; maybe not. In any case, I hope that reading aloud is allowed.

1 comment:

Amber O said...

My nieces love for me to read to them, but occasionally I beg off and ask my mom to read to all of us instead. I grew up listening to her read to me, both as my mom and my elementary school librarian, so in my humble opinion, nobody does it like her. (I do remember you reading to us occasionally in high school, and you're pretty darn good too.) Mom and I were just saying the other day we can't wait til Allie can sit still long enough for chapter books.