Silence Please!

In my early years of elementary school, I failed to see the importance of reading aloud as a class. During our reading time, I would have teachers ask the class, “Would you rather read this silently or as a class?” Well, my vote was loyally tied to reading independently where I was able to read at my own pace and re-read sections that I needed clarification on, encouraging me to maintain a high level of accountability for my reading. In the cases where the majority of the students in the class wanted to read aloud, I remember having to re-read sections in a book because I hadn’t grasped all of the details while a classmate was reading. My comprehension of these passages varied due to: my classmate’s reading pace, fluency, tone, voice level, or sometimes just my lack of interest in the reading.


And dare I mention “popcorn reading,” which presented a choppy reading experience where each student would read a few sentences, a paragraph, or a page, and then would “popcorn” to the next student and so on. Well, as you would imagine with any group of young students reading, my classmates (including me) got distracted, didn’t know where their peer left off, skipped paragraphs, read paragraphs twice, and ultimately I was forced to piece together the key points of the reading.

While I hated reading as a class in my early years of elementary school, today I find value in reading aloud. It wasn’t until my English class was reading Shakespeare’s Macbeth during my sophomore year of high school that I began to value this reading strategy. Student’s were assigned roles in this play and we alternated between reading scenes in class and reading scenes at home. Each day we would take time to discuss the important aspects of each scene and any key points that we might have glanced over. This play was written in the early 1600’s, making the English and poetic language a challenge to understand. To my surprise, I was able to grasp a larger portion of the plot when we were reading as a class. This is when I realized that reading aloud and listening to others read actually helped me to pace myself, avoid skimming for important points, and direct my focus towards details.

Today, as a college student studying speech and communication disorders, I have realized that reading aloud is imperative. According to children’s literacy expert Dr. Timothy Shanahan,

“Oral reading proficiency explains more than 80% of the variation in the reading comprehension of second-graders. What that means is that if you could make all 7-year-olds equal in oral reading fluency (recognizing equal numbers of words, reading with similar speed, pausing equally appropriately), then you would do away with 80% of the differences in comprehension.” 

This can also provide feedback on comprehension skills and reading proficiency as students should be reading around 150-175 words per minute at these elementary school levels. Reading comprehension and critical reading skills go hand-in-hand as it is important that teachers strive to keep their class engaged and reduce their focus on reading a passage to the class with as few mistakes as possible. In these cases, “Comprehension was not their focus, their focus was on not sounding like a poor reader in front of their peers.”

Strategies below are from Sharon Taberski, author of Instructor magazine article, “Motivating Readers.”

Taberski Strategies .png

On the other hand, there is also a great significance in reading independently. This forces the reader to synthesize the reading and analyze it on their own prior to discussing the literature as a class.

In all, we all read at different paces and have individual preferences about how we read and best comprehend the material. Teachers should have the common goal of developing each student’s reading skills and challenge them to grasp the content while reading in various settings.

So thank you to my teachers who forced me to sit through classes where my peers and I read aloud. Starting at a young age you encouraged me to begin advancing my processing and comprehension skills, shaping my love for reading into what it is today.

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One Response to Silence Please!

  1. kbuffett says:

    What an interesting post! To be honest, I have never actually sat down and thought about how my feelings on reading aloud has changed as I have gotten older – but after reading this, I can say that I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    Like you, I also detested doing “popcorn reading” during my elementary school years. From what I can remember, we read aloud in class to make sure everyone was actually reading (and not spacing out). I recall that in fourth grade, my teacher told us that she would call on us randomly to read so that everyone was essentially forced to follow along with the material. Since I have always enjoyed reading, I did not understand why anyone else would dislike it and intentionally not read. I do not remember this being an issue during my time in our AIG portable, but I know that popcorn reading and reading aloud was a method to keep everyone focused during my time in my home classroom. Even though I obviously would have preferred reading in silence, I understand the importance of reading aloud in the classroom from an early age.

    When I got into middle and high school, I noticed that reigning everyone in the classroom in to focus was not exactly something that honors and AP teachers felt they needed to do. When everyone wanted to read and was engaged in the material, reading aloud became a much more enjoyable experience. As you mentioned in your post, having the opportunity to break complex pieces into more digestible snippets through switching readers was really invaluable during classes like AP Literature.

    Once again, great post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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