In this Stenhouse Summer Series blog post, instructional coach Nita Creekmore shares one of her favorite books to read aloud in the first days of school and writes about the power of interactive read-aloud to build both literacy and community.
It was the beginning of the year. Students had freshly sharpened pencils in their desks, the smell of crayons filled the air, and a new “Reading is Thinking” marble composition notebook lay on each student’s desk. I called the students to the carpet in groups, and they waited excitedly for the introduction of the book. Today’s selection was The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S. K. Ali and illustrated by Hatem Aly. “This book is one of my favorites,” I shared. The students laughed when I said that—even this early in the year they already knew I had many, many books that were “my favorite.” As we settled in to read The Proudest Blue, the students’ energy told me they were ready to enjoy the story and the book talk that was about to occur! This book talk allowed each of the students to get to know one another a bit better, listen to one another and to learn to respect each other’s similarities and differences.
“This book is one of my favorites,” I shared.
The students laughed when I said that—even this
early in the year they already knew
I had many, many books that were “my favorite.”
As a teacher first and now as an instructional coach, reading aloud to students has always been one of my favorite practices. I have always loved how books have the power to connect students to stories, create rich discussion, and build community in the classroom. But as I have grown as a teacher and coach of literacy, I have dug deeper into the structure and power of an interactive read-aloud, and the possibilities this practice brings not just to literacy learning, but to classroom community.
The Power, The Why, and The Impact of Interactive Read-Aloud
“Interactive read alouds are important learning opportunities for emergent readers because teachers and peers can actively model and scaffold comprehension strategies, engage readers, and cultivate a community of learners” (Wiseman, 2010).
Not only do interactive read-alouds bring students together physically (for instance, in a circle or a group on a carpet), they also bring them together on a social-emotional level. Interactive read-alouds, especially ones that have a theme centered around what it means to be a good human, help students to build empathy, compassion, and love together in community.
But it is important to recognize that often community isn’t built overnight, and it doesn’t magically happen as soon as we open a book to read to our students. We don’t just come together and immediately have a “we all agree” moment. Sometimes community building is the unlearning, the working through misunderstandings, and building new relationships with the foundation of love and respect for one another. Interactive read-alouds offer us a space for thoughtful discourse that cultivates the kind of understanding and active listening that builds community over time.
Sometimes community building is the
unlearning, the working through misunderstandings,
and building new relationships with the
foundation of love and respect for one another.
The Teacher as Facilitator
Interactive read-alouds help students to build critical thinking and questioning skills as they dive deeper into the read-aloud while learning (and at times unlearning) with their peers. Throughout the interactive read-aloud the teacher helps create a space of inclusion, acceptance, and belonging through the books that are chosen, the intentionality of planning, and the thoughtfulness during the discussions. As the teachers, it is important that we know our students, their interests, their identities, their backgrounds, and who they are as readers. This knowledge helps teachers choose books that represent the entire community where all students are seen and valued. It is also important that the teacher includes read-alouds that tell stories beyond those that are representative of the classroom community. Especially if the stories are from marginalized and underrepresented people whose stories need to be told to all. The teacher serves as a guide throughout the implementation of the interactive read-aloud. The teacher is intentional, aware, knowledgeable, and open to ensure that the interactive read-aloud lesson is impactful, purposeful, and a sense of community is being cultivated.
An Interactive Read-Aloud of The Proudest Blue
Let’s take a deep dive into the planning of an interactive read-aloud and see how my read-aloud of The Proudest Blue played out. I chose this beautiful book because it tells a story of strength, protection, overcoming, and love. As a coach, this is a story that I wanted to read to as many classes as I could—and I did. The themes in this book and the imagery, inferences, and flashbacks are what made me want to share it with classes. It was a book in which we could dig into character analysis, setting, similarities/differences between ourselves and others, and summarizing.
As I planned this interactive read-aloud, I thought intentionally about my instructional goals and the questions I wanted to ask students. I thought about the exact places I wanted to pause to elicit discussion. I pulled out vocabulary words with which students may not be familiar. I thought about the possible discussions that could be cultivated and the community that could be created. I got out my sticky notes and, after reading the book twice, I began writing my questions, pausing points, and my thinking. This intentional planning is the power behind interactive read-aloud.
As I planned for my read-aloud of The Proudest Blue, I jotted down some ideas and questions to elicit conversation.
Purpose: (meshing a bit of both—reading is a tossed salad)
- Character analysis
- hijab, squint, curtsy,
Some questions to elicit conversation:
- “What is a hijab? Does anyone have an idea what that might be?”
- “Why do you think the sister, Faizah, said, ‘It’s the most beautiful first day of school ever?’”
- Read the quote, “Her hijab smiles at me the whole way,” and model thinking aloud, “Can a hijab smile? What do you think she means?”
- “When asked by a student about the hijab, Faizah says it is ‘a scarf.’ Then she tries again, louder and says, ‘a scarf. Hijab.’ What are your thoughts about that?”
- “What are your thoughts about the boys pointing and laughing? What would you do?”
- “How would you describe Faizah (the younger sister)?”
- “How would you describe Asiya (the older sister)?”
After brainstorming these questions, I paired them down to the questions I felt connected the most with the purpose of the read-aloud, the questions that would evoke the most thought, the most discussion, the most community building, and provide the most impact on student learning and overall growth. This planning process allowed me to truly think about the students that I was reading aloud to and how they might engage in discussion.
It is also important to note that planning is just that—a plan. We must allow students to drive the learning. If you don’t get to ask every single question you planned, it is okay! Allow for the learning, growing and community building to naturally happen. The learning will happen because you have been intentional and purposeful in your planning. If the read-aloud conversation goes in an unexpected direction that feels beneficial to the community, allow it to happen and facilitate the learning.
It is also important to note that planning
is just that—a plan. We must allow students
to drive the learning. If you don’t get to
ask every single question you planned, it is okay!
Seeing Community in the Classroom
The learning that occurs during interactive read-alouds facilitates the building of community early in the school year and all year long. Students learn about the skills and strategies that readers use and consider what it takes to be a good human in this world. In the classroom, you see students asking each other questions to better understand one another’s ideas. You see them treating one another with kindness. You see the empathy learned from the books you’ve studied. You also see students make connections back to the books they know as they learn to solve disagreements in productive ways. You see the power of the interactive read-aloud. You see the love of reading of your students being cultivated—all through the pages of a book through the implementation of an interactive read-aloud.
About the Author
Nita Creekmore is an Instructional Coach Consultant who lives just outside Atlanta, GA. She is the owner and operator of Love Teach Bless, LLC. She has worked in the field of education for 18 years. Nita is married to Michael Creekmore, Jr. and has four children. You can connect with Nita on Instagram @loveteachbless.