2 Getting your students to read aloud
In the case study that follows, a teacher takes steps to monitor and evaluate students’ reading.
Case Study 1: Mr Govinder encourages students to read aloud
Mr Govinder is a Class V English teacher.
Our English textbooks have lots of short stories in them. I used to always read these stories aloud to my students and have them silently follow the stories in the book as I read. Sometimes, though, I noticed that they could not follow the story or had no idea what the text was about when I asked them questions about it.
I wanted to monitor whether or not they could understand what they were reading. One way to do this, I thought, was to have the students read aloud from the textbook, particularly after we had all read the story once together. I could only call on three or four students per day, but I thought that if I did this every day, most students could have at least one turn every two weeks. In this way, they would have regular opportunities to read aloud and hear each other read aloud.
I used to think that if I had taught my students well, they would not make mistakes while reading aloud. But I noticed that the students who read without mistakes were actually just pretending to read, reciting the text from memory. And I realised that if they were just memorising what I had read to them, they weren’t actually learning anything. The students who were really reading and understanding tended to read a lot slower, made mistakes and had difficulty reading some words. I realised that those ‘mistakes’ actually showed that learning was taking place.
But students don’t like to make mistakes, so I have to encourage them to keep trying and praising them regularly while they were reading.
Sometimes when a student comes across a word that is hard for them to read, they may be tempted to skip over it. But I try to encourage them to take a bit of time to look at the word and understand what it means. Once they have read and understood the word, I ask the student to go back to the beginning of the sentence and read it again. Repeated readings of difficult words and phrases seem to result in improvements in the students’ speed, accuracy and expressiveness when they read aloud. That’s why it’s important that students get to read texts that are interesting, so that they feel motivated to read them again and again.
However, I find that if a student is stumbling repeatedly when reading something, there is no point in having them continue with it. So I make a note to myself that the student needs further support with reading and I choose a simpler text for them to read the next time. I then work with them in a one-to-one session when I can. I’ve noticed that students’ reading abilities are most likely to improve if they are given texts where they are familiar with the majority of words and phrases.
Pause for thought
In the next activity, the focus is on developing your students’ skills in reading aloud in English.
Activity 2: Listen to students read aloud
Plan a 30-minute session where you listen to individual students read aloud to you in English.
- Select a small group of students (no more than six) who are of a similar ability.
- Choose a section of the textbook for them to read – they should not be overly familiar with it.
- Make sure that each student has a copy of the textbook or that they all can see the text.
- Set the rest of the class some quiet work.
- Organise a space in the classroom where you can sit with the group.
- Establish a rule that you and the group cannot be disturbed.
- Tell the class that everyone will have an opportunity to read to you in a small group.
Sit with the small group. Explain that each student will read a passage aloud to you so that you can hear and encourage their reading. Give the six students the textbook and have them read a section aloud to you, one after another.
As your students read, listen carefully to them. If they are unsure of a word, do not jump in to help them straight away. Encourage them gently to try to work out the word or sentence. Which of the following strategies do you see them use?
- Sounding words (using letter/sound knowledge)
- Predicting words from the context of the story or any associated pictures
- Predicting what words come next because of familiar phrasing
- Reading one word at a time
- Reading connected text and phrases
- Pointing to each word
- Reading words from memory
- Reading sentences from memory
- Making guesses.
All of these are acceptable ways to practise reading in a new language. If students are using one strategy, you can encourage them to try other ways of working out words. You can ask, for example, ‘What does the picture show?’ or ‘What letter is this and what sound does it make?’
Listening to students read aloud is an assessment opportunity. How do you decide what book or text the student should read next? How important are reading levels in your decision? Do you take the student’s age into account? What other factors influence your assessments?
When you listen to students read aloud, you can monitor their fluency and pronunciation. You can ask them comprehension questions. You can also ask the students what they like about the book, or what they find interesting or funny. This gives them time to talk about reading in an enjoyable way.
If you listen to a group of students read to you every week, then you will be able to hear every student in your class read aloud over a month to six weeks. Organise a wall chart to show which group will read with you each week. Make this a special time for you and each group of students.
See Resource 1, ‘Monitoring and giving feedback’ to learn more about the methods to evaluate and record student progress.