My Students Hate Our Read Aloud

image from icanread

I could tell they were falling asleep.  Drowning in their disinterest, faking it just for me.  So I tried to make the voices like they like, I tried to quicken the pace.  I emphasized the action that happened.  Nothing…  The read aloud had started 2 minutes ago yet it felt like an hour.

I closed the book.  Asked what was the matter.

“It’s so boring, Mrs. Ripp,” whined a student (yes really, whined).

“There’s no action…”chimed another.

“Remember how with “The False Prince” we asked you to keep reading?  That hasn’t happened once here!” exclaimed a third.  Heads nodding all around.

So I did what most teachers normally do when their meticulously chosen read aloud is torn apart, I got defensive.

“What do you mean there is no action?  Didn’t you just read this part?  And also, you have to give it a chance, not everything can happen all at once…”  I could hear my own sales pitch but I couldn’t stop it.  “Trust me, I  picked this book and it is phenomenal, it gets so good.”  I was starting to sound desperate.  I shut the book, sent them off to read, and sat n the rocking chair licking my wounds.  How could they question what I had chosen?  Didn’t they trust in my opinion?

Now, looking back on it I see what I should have done.  I should have listened.  Asked more questions, taken their notion to heart and opened it up for a classroom discussion.  I shouldn’t have gotten defensive, I shouldn’t have shut it down.  I shouldn’t have taken it personally.  It is not me, nor the book that is the problem.  It is the choice of the book right now that isn’t working, that’s all.

So tonight I realize that perhaps we need to just abandon the book.  That it is not a case of me being wrong on my selection; the book is one of my all time favorite books, but that it may just not be the right fit for us right now.  That it may not be the best read aloud.  That doesn’t make it a bad book, far from it.  It just means that kids should discover it on their own, at their own pace, much like I did when I first read it.

Tomorrow when I am with my students again, I will ask them their thoughts.  Should we abandon or should we continue forward?  I will not be offended, I will not become defensive.  I will instead take it as yet another learning moment just like I should have done from the start.  Although we try so hard to find the perfect read alouds for our class, they don’t always work.  And that’s ok.    It is when the students have the courage to speak up against our choice that we must listen the hardest.  After all, as teachers isn’t that we strive for them to gain?  The courage and independence to form an opinion about something?

My students didn’t set out to upset me, nor to disappoint me.  They spoke up so that we could be saved 200 pages more worth of bored read aloud time.  I am not mad, nor upset anymore, but instead renewed by the challenge of finding the perfect read aloud.  The one that will have the students begging for just one more page.  The one that they will clamor to read themselves once I am done.  That’s the one I need to find.  And the best part, I know it is out there.

Post Script:

Today we talked about the book, I shared with them the new book that they could switch to and then we did a secret vote.  In the end, I was surprised.  The majority decided to stay with our current read aloud, however, I struck a deal with the other disappointed kids.  We will revote in 50 pages and see if we want to continue with it then or not.

I then discovered something important as I read aloud.  While I hate to stop a read aloud, I asked them if they knew what a passage meant.  They had no idea.  Between my sub and I, we had not discovered that the students were not catching a lot of the meanings in the text or even some of the context!  I had miscalculated their background knowledge as well as their vocabulary.  No wonder they dislike the book so much, they were missing half of the action.  As I finished our read aloud telling them a little bit about WWI, I could see I was re-hooking them into the book.  While it may not be everybody’s favorite book still, I think it still has a chance…

8 thoughts on “My Students Hate Our Read Aloud

  1. Samuel Johnson, on advice that books, once started, should be read all the way through:

    “This is surely a strange advice; you may as well resolve that whatever men you happen to get acquainted with, you are to keep them for life. A book may be good for nothing; or there may be only one thing in it worth knowing; are we to read it all through?”

  2. My wish is that all students can someday experience a teacher as passionate and thoughtful as you. Thank you, for ALL that you do.

  3. Pernille, this was an incredibly powerful and reflective act that I hope I am courageous enough to remember to reflect on when I’m faced with similar situations. Learning to listen to others is something that we should all work to get better at. It allows us too all win.

  4. I have abandoned books during read aloud before. I didn’t know that books that read well in my head wouldn’t read well aloud. Of course one of my favorite read aloud experiences was with a book that was horrible to read aloud. The kids and I really enjoyed the poor dialogue, it almost became a SNL episode.

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