Friday, November 8, 2013

Real Reading: The Global Read Aloud

I'm thinking of writing a series of posts about making reading real. My definition of "real" (as opposed to schooly) is to use the kinds of activities and habits of mind that naturally and genuinely engage readers. My first post in the series (if, indeed it becomes a series) is a reflection on the Global Read Aloud or GRA. The Global Read Aloud is an amazing project started in 2010 by Pernille Ripp, a 5th grade teacher from Wisconsin.

Who Has the Time?
First of all, I had planned, before school even started, to participate in the GRA with at least one of my two language arts classes. But with so many Jewish holidays early in the school year and so little teaching time, I felt tremendous pressure to show evidence that my students were learning. Since I do not give traditional homework, nor do I use many traditional assessments (like weekly spelling lists, etc), I feel that my job is more challenging, as there is sometimes a basic lack of trust that educators are educating without constant (and often meaningless) data.

So, I seriously considered NOT participating.

And what a huge, huge mistake that would have been!

The only reason I did participate was to honor a commitment I had made (through the overwhelmingly large group on edmodo) to two other teachers.

The Book: Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
I think the biggest reason for the success of the GRA in my classroom was the excellent choice of book. Right from the beginning, my students were hooked. The characters were either lovable or detestable, and the main character, Melody, touched our hearts and made us think deeply about people with disabilities.
The spontaneous connections and conversations that evolved in the classroom were a language arts teacher's dream.
Would you rather be Melody or August from Wonder
At the end of every session of reading, my students would literally groan and beg me to continue reading. It was the high point of my day, every day.
Several students couldn't wait to find out what would happen and finished reading on their own. Other students who told me at the start of the year that they do not enjoy reading, said that this is their favorite book ever.

The Connections
We kept our connecting fairly simple. Our class tweeters tweeted, using the #GRA13OOMM hashtag. We Skyped twice with 5th graders at the Seattle Hebrew Academy and once with 4th and 5th graders at Talmud Torah in St. Paul.

We commented on each other's blog posts. We discussed the book in a backchannel chat, using Today's Meet.
A snippet from our backchannel discussion with SHA

We also had one or two surprises. When Jagger wrote a personal reflection about people who are "different" I tweeted it. A teacher in Australia assigned her class to comment on Jagger's post! He was amazed and reflected on his blog,
"This has been a world wide post and I am really glad about this."
We had some other students comment on our posts as well, which is always appreciated.

Real Readers Do It
First of all, I am a HUGE advocate for reading aloud. I have personally experienced the myriad ways that listening to reading strengthens comprehension, vocabulary, fluency and, most importantly, love for reading. Reading aloud leads to non-contrived discussions of character, plot, literary devices, and comprehension strategies. Real readers love to talk about what they're reading. Real readers connect around stories, characters, problems and ideas. The more we read aloud as a class, the greater our shared history of books and characters from which to make text to text connections. 

The Global Read Aloud was a very worthwhile use of our precious class time. I would do it again in a heartbeat and would highly recommend it to other teachers. Reading this book aloud would have been worthwhile without the global connections, but the global connections definitely amplified the students' interest in and opportunities for discussion. Finding one or two other teachers/schools to connect with was perfect for us, and tweeting with the hashtag brought some surprising and welcome connections. I am excited, as are the students, to choose together our next read aloud book. It will have to be excellent to follow this one. I would love to continue the GRA idea and find one or two other classes who are interested in reading the same book on the same schedule and connecting to discuss.