If you asked twenty primary school teachers how they implement shared reading in the classroom, you would likely get twenty different responses. Primary education is one of the rare professions that allows scope for personal influence. By this, teachers can promote their own favourite reads and genres, controlling – to an extent – the literacy their students are exposed to. Some educators treasure diving into a book with their class, while others reluctantly throw in a page here or there to satisfy the needs of the ever-crowded curriculum.
While there is no doubt that teachers are under pressure to fit everything in during the hectic school week, there are plenty of reasons why shared reading should command sacred time in the classroom.
- Shared reading models good reading
The teacher is the expert reader in the classroom. Sharing a book allows for the modelling of proficient, expressive and fluent reading. The power of the human voice in such a setting has a remarkable impact. Students are great mimickers, and thus begin to embellish their own reading with increased expression. The teacher also has the capacity to model – through their voice – the pacing and tension of a story.
- Discussion, discussion, discussion
Shared reading is the perfect vehicle for rich discussion. From large picture books to full length novels, every book contains countless talking points. Good teachers can tap into the topics or issues inside a book and pose questions to their students. Why do you think Ralph feels lonely? Why has the illustrator painted the trees blue? What’s happening to the coral in the Great Barrier Reef? How would you feel if you were in Ruby’s shoes? Discussion comes alive.
- Language finds another layer
Spoken words are more readily accepted by students than written ones. For a student who finds it difficult to decipher text on a page, shared reading is a sure-bet way to improve their general language skills. Shared reading is an extension of conversation; the reader is telling another’s story on their behalf. Teachers who choose quality ‘read-alouds’, expose the students to powerful words. When language plays such a crucial role in life, it makes sense to saturate the classroom in it.
During my final year of full-time classroom teaching, I read Toby Alone (Timothee de Fombelle) to my Grade Four class of all girls. Beautifully translated from French to English, it made for some wonderful examples of quality writing. I would often pause mid-sentence, leaving room for the students to call out what they thought the next word was. It was an effective way to make the students conscious of vocabulary.
- Teachers are entertainers
Shared reading can be incredibly fun. My go-to book was Uncollected by Paul Jennings. These fun short stories were so popular with my students, shared reading became a reward! I would put on silly voices, heighten my expression at all the right places, and even occasionally let out a random ‘Boo!’ – just to keep the students on the edge of their seats.
These days I love walking into classrooms and libraries across Australia and seeing how teachers and teacher-librarians hide the educational values of shared reading beneath a vibrant layer of fun. Teachers who use stories to entertain, break down the walls of fear that many students have when it comes to reading.
If you give something enough airtime, it eventually catches on. Never underestimate the power of an enthusiastic shared reading session. Students often become enthralled in a story, and thus notch up their own reading gears a level or two. Many teachers will tell you that their students have gone out and bought a book, just so they could find out what happens at the end. To promote a love of reading, one must read.
Tim Harris is one of the most exciting new children’s authors in Australia. With over 15 years’ experience as a primary school teacher, Tim knows what it takes to get children reading. Having presented at over 30 schools in 2016 alone, Tim is quickly gaining an outstanding reputation as a speaker and workshop leader. His first series, Exploding Endings, has sold over 20,000 copies in Australia, and his laugh-out-loud new series, Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables, is going to be even bigger. Tim lives in Sydney.