Who’s Doing the Work: Saying Less So Readers Can Do More in Read Aloud

by Mary Howard


On June 16, 2016, #G2Great launched a four-part series with guest hosts Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris, co-authors of a remarkable book, Who’s Doing the Work: How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More (Stenhouse 2016). We began our journey with read-aloud, a topic we’ve spotlighted at #G2Great on three other occasions (see 2/14/16; 3/17/16; 4/21/16

This week, Jan & Kim helped us make a shift to Next Generation Read-Aloud as reflected on page 30: “Read-aloud is a commercial for learning to read. It entices children to lean into the tricky parts of a text for the reward of enjoying its meaning, and this understanding of the relationship between productive effort and its joyful benefits can motivate students during shared reading, guided reading and independent reading.”

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In other words, next generation read-aloud asks us open the read-aloud door wider as we invite students to engage in meaningful opportunities to do this productive and joyful work within and beyond the read-aloud experience. Over 1700 tweets and trending on Twitter within minutes and enthusiastic read-aloud suggestions reflected that our #G2Great chatters were ready to make this shift with gusto.

Throughout our chat, Jan and Kim helped us reflect on a question inspired by the cover of their book: How do teachers say less so readers can do more? As I perused enthusiastic tweets of dedicated educators, I discovered seven essential qualities that next generation read-aloud teachers choose to embrace:

Next Generation Read-Aloud Teachers are COMMITTED

We cannot even begin to become next generation read-aloud teachers until we make a time commitment to daily read-aloud. In my Steven Layne blog post, a comment was posted by a teacher describing herself as a read-aloud ‘thief in the night:’ “We have a specific district level mandate that reading aloud to the whole class for more than a few minutes/day is strictly forbidden.” Next generation read-aloud teachers hold tight to read aloud by carving it into daily schedule stone and they let nothing stand in the way – not even ill-informed absurd district mandates.

Next Generation Read-Aloud Teachers are SELECTIVE

Within this time commitment, next generation read-aloud teachers celebrate book choice as the inspiration. They thoughtfully select texts, opting for the highest quality varied selections that will cognitively and emotionally connect students in ways that give them a reason to actively engage in deep thinking. Jan and Kim remind us, “Text selection is the first, and potentially the most important, aspect of planning a successful read-aloud experience.” Next generation read-aloud teachers take this challenge seriously, knowing that texts are the spark that can touch the minds and hearts of students and beckon them to do more of the work.

Next Generation Read-Aloud Teachers are AWE-INSPIRING

While book choice is critical, next generation read-aloud teachers also know that it is the delivery that can bring that book to life. One does not need to sit through many scripted read-alouds to recognize that JOY is the heartbeat of the read-aloud experience. Cautiously chosen and joyfully delivered texts can impact readers in substantial ways as we celebrate the beauty of the language, meaning, and pictures. When we take time to linger a bit longer in engaging texts, we merge our collective joy and collaboratively savor words, images and messages in delight.

Next Generation Read-Aloud Teachers are INTENTIONAL

Commitment, texts and joy form the foundation for next generation read-aloud teachers but they also recognize the value of well-planned instruction and refuse to leave this to chance. Planning is thoughtfully intentional so that they can make the most of every experience. They know books inside out before reading, carefully but selectively placing sticky notes at key points in the text that will afford opportunities to model, pause, reflect, and discuss. They have a clear purpose in mind and know how to breathe life into that purpose in organic and productive ways that will elevate the instructional goal without diminishing enthusiastic engagement. Of course, they have equal respect for providing opportunities to read-aloud for the sheer sake and joy of read-aloud.

Next Generation Read-Aloud Teachers are RESPONSIVE

Next generation read aloud teachers respect the planning process, but they have even more respect for students. They are mindful that instructional goals can pull students into the experience or push them out, carefully balancing those goals by keeping students at the forefront. They are willing to ignore sticky note pauses or selected teaching points so that student thinking can rise to the surface. They invite deep thinking by encouraging student voices to lift above their own, viewing turn and talk as a read-aloud staple. They celebrate the ideas readers bring to the read-aloud experience and use them to inform next steps.

Next Generation Read-Aloud Teachers are CURIOUS

Each of the essential qualities described thus far are crucial but next generation read-aloud teachers recognize that read-aloud begins and ends with our students in mind. They view kidwatching as an art and use student conversations and reactions in the course of the experience to inspire noticings and wonderings that can elevate heat of learning moments. They seek to understand and use student thinking as a stepping stone to know students at deeper levels. They take advantage of powerful learning to make adjustments on the run to quench their curiosity with actions that are continuously informed by students.

Next Generation Read-Aloud Teachers are COURAGEOUS

Finally, next generation read-aloud teachers are willing to courageously forge new paths to elevate the read-aloud experience. They offer students a steady diet of beautiful texts and strive to bring books and children together on a daily basis. They set the stage to help students understand how books work by designing a learning experience that will be both productive and pleasurable. Above all, they believe in students enough to turn over the reign of responsibility and trust them to do work they know may be messy. They embrace the mess, unfettered by the unknown while encouraging and supporting productive effort along the way. They accept this uncertainty bravely, knowing  payoff will be immeasurable in terms of benefit to students – and that knowledge takes priority over all else.

As I think back on our #G2Great chat with Jan and Kim I am personally inspired to move closer toward becoming a next generation read-aloud teacher. I am excited to embrace the exploratory spirit this shift affords as we enter uncharted territory ripe for thoughtful meanderings in a growth opportunity for students and teachers. As we work to achieve the seven essential qualities, we begin our own gradual release of responsibility toward higher levels of thinking where students do more of the work and read-aloud becomes our teacher

Thank you Jan and Kim for inspiring us to explore what next generation read-aloud has in store for us all! Now let’s get started…

Contact Jan: jan@burkinsandyaris.com Contact Kim: kim@burkinsandyaris.com.

More inspiring #G2Great Tweets on new generation read-aloud below


8 thoughts on “Who’s Doing the Work: Saying Less So Readers Can Do More in Read Aloud”

  1. Mary,
    Love, Love, Love your seven qualities, but I’m going to hold onto this part of your “Responsive” section:

    “. . . They are willing to ignore sticky note pauses or selected teaching points so that student thinking can rise to the surface. They invite deep thinking by encouraging student voices to lift above their own, viewing turn and talk as a read-aloud staple. They celebrate the ideas readers bring to the read-aloud experience and use them to inform next steps.”

    Next Generation Read Alouds are needed for the sake of our students – their thinking and their voices! <3

  2. Thank you so much Fran! I think Next Generation Read Aloud is needed for the sake of teachers too since it will change our perspective of the role we play and enhance both assessment and instruction. I think this sharper lens for who’s doing the work is much needed!

  3. So much wisdom here, and behind it all are amazing teachers changing the face of education, one read aloud session at a time.

    1. I love that Margaret – “changing the face of education, one read aloud session at a time.” As long as we keep read aloud alive in classrooms across the country and in our discussions, I know that will happen!

  4. I love this synthesis of the #g2great chat. At times, I have felt like a thief in the night as far as read-aloud is concerned. The chapter of the book on read-aloud has provided me with reasons that I can use to articulate the power and necessity of read-aloud. Read-aloud is a thinking experience and there is no reading without thinking.

    1. I love your description of read-aloud as a THINKING EXPERIENCE Lisa. As long as we can continue to be vocal in both our discussions and practices and demonstrate what it looks like as a thoughtful and pleasurable thinking practice, I suspect those days of feeling like a thief in the read-aloud night would be in our past.

  5. Thank you for sharing your synopsis and reflections on what sounds like was a powerful Twitter chat. Lots to take away and ponder here!

    1. Reflective pondering is our best tool for holding tight to powerful practices Erin. I’m so glad this gave you some read-aloud food for thought!

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