Reading Aloud with a Partner: A Secondary School Reading Strategy

Teaching students in the Middle School Classroom to read can be a challenge in many respects.  When many students reach Middle School they have learned a great many things about themselves, their world, and how well they perform in school.  Many of the students I teach come to me with a preconceived notion that reading is hard, not fun, and irritating. None the less, it is my duty to teach these students how to increase their reading level so they can not only pass my class, but pass the state standardized test.  Below is a strategy that I have employed that has caused my students to be more successful.     

In the classroom that I teach I have a diverse group of learners.  I have a wide variety of demographics in my classroom and many students with varying ability.  My On Level classes are a textbook inclusion class with these average numbers being the norm:  

·         5-8 Special Education
·         5 ESL
·         15 Gen Ed
·         3 Students who probably should belong in the Advanced Class, but were left out for one reason or another.

The numbers can vary, but usually I end up with classes that average around 25-30 of a diverse group of learners.  I almost always have a para-educator to help me reach these students that is usually a patient and strong willed individual that gives unending support.  Needless to say my work is cut out for me when I start planning how to reach students and increase their reading abilities by the end of the school year.  

                As a teacher at this point we have a choice when we look at a roster like this: despair or roll up one’s sleeves and get to work.  Since I grew up in Cleveland, was raised in a family that had an aversion to laziness and celebrated those who did serious Hard work that would put George Bush to shame, I always roll up my sleeves to do battle to ensure student success.  Once the teacher has made up his or her mind to push every student to succeed there is no way the students can’t succeed.  Whenever I think of making a teacher face that is to motivate students, I think of the faces my parents made when they caught me shirking off behind the garage with my brothers while everyone else was raking the copious amounts of leaves from our backyard.  Usually they didn’t have to say anything.  “The Look” said it all.  But I digress…  Back to teaching reading…

Once we have rolled up our sleeves and dived into figuring out what appropriate text students should read we still have a problem.  We have students that can read at a very high rate and those who can barely read at all.  How do we solve the problem?  The solution that I have used time and again that has helped students of all different walks of life is the reading with a partner or in groups’ strategy.  

When using this strategy I have usually paired students up if I have them in rows or have the table group I have created take turns reading a paragraph.[1]  Each student reads a paragraph aloud to the other students in the group who read along as the text is read.  What this does is activate several centers of learning that include listening and seeing the information.  Those students that have trouble understanding pronunciations get help from their peers who are also in the group and might be a stronger reader.  Also when the students have completed the reading together they then answer the questions or fill out the organizer I had given them for that day.  They can ask one another for help instead of only relying on me the teacher, which forms bonds in the class and breaks the age old mold of teacher as a sage.  The use of the groups also encourages students who do not do as well to try instead of giving up if they had been reading alone, since other students are counting on them to read their part.  

The strategy has worked well for me over the years now and has helped students become more proficient in reading.  I have had students use this strategy to help them figure out the flowery language of Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers as well as used to unlock the meanings of higher level readings that might be on a high school reading level.  I have also seen drastic improvement in students’ pronunciations of words and their ability to comprehend the text that they are reading, due to the discussion portion.  Last year I had a special needs student who had trouble reading at the beginning of the year and later on I found out that after he was tested at the end of the year that he had jumped three reading levels.  I have no proof that I helped his reading abilities or that his other teachers we not the reason he was successful, but I like to think that I played a part in his development. 

So next time you are planning a text reading lesson, give the reading aloud in pairs a shot.  It sure beats students sitting around falling asleep in their chairs or giving up before they even begin.  As one principal I had once said, “Don’t knock it until you try it.”  You might be surprised at the results.  I sure was. 

[1] The Table groups I create always have a strong reader grouped with those who might score in the mid-range or below.

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