4 Ways to Release the Reading to the Kids


One of the questions I get asked most often by administrators, coaches, and teachers, is how we can release the reading to the kids - how we can make sure our kids are doing more of the reading on their own in class - with our EL materials. 

After all, if the lesson plan tells me to read this text aloud to the students, shouldn't I do that if I'm expected to use these materials with integrity? 

Before I get into the nitty gritty of instructional practices that can help you release more of the reading to your students, let's first think about why this is something we should be talking about at all. Why does it matter who does the reading that happens during an EL lesson?

First, I think it's important to always begin with our vision for literacy, and for us, that vision is:

All students will be able to independently build knowledge and understanding from fresh, complex texts.

At the end of the year, this is what our students need to do. And if we need them to be able to read and reason independently at the end of the year, we need to give them plenty of opportunities to do that in our classroom routinely throughout the year.

Second, many times the materials will note that the lesson is designed to be a read aloud because the text is very complex and many students will benefit from an expert reader reading it aloud at least once. After all, why would we put texts in front of our students that they can already read well? If we want them to grow as readers and thinkers, we should be putting meaty, complex, challenging texts in front of them while they have our expertise close by to help them navigate the language. However, we should be mindful to release the reading to students when we can, and that's often noted in the lesson materials. So, know that flexibility in these ways is accounted for in many of the lessons.

If we think about the different ways a students can access a text, we can consider this continuum based on how much support students receive from the teacher, and these are in order from most support (1) to least support (5).

  1. Teacher read aloud or listening to audio of the text: This is the most heavily supported, and it's essentially the same whether kids are following along or not.
  2. Echo reading: The teacher reads and the students echo. This doesn't suit the upper grades as much as the lower grades, but you could use this with poetry or smaller, strategically selected sections.
  3. Choral reading: All students read aloud at the same time. The teacher can come in and out of the reading as needed or appropriate.
  4. Partner reading: Students can take turns reading aloud, or they might even choral read together.
  5. Independently reading: Just what it says.

So, a general rule of thumb is to move as far down the list as possible as often as possible for the given text, purpose and circumstances. Since the goal is independence, the more opportunities students have to engage with texts successfully with the least amount of support the better. 

How to do that? Here are four practices you can use to move kids from more support to less and release the reading to your students:

  1. Strategically read aloud portions of the text. Let's say I'm teaching third grade, and we are reading Peter Pan, and the lesson calls for me to read aloud chapter 5. I could preread that chapter and decide that I'm going to read aloud the first page to launch the reading, but then release the rest for the students to read independently. I could also preread that chapter and see that there are 3 paragraphs that have some complex ideas and plot moves in them, so I could decide to release all of the reading to them except for those 3 paragraphs.
  2. Work with a small group. If most of my students are capable of handling the text fairly well, I could release the reading to the whole class and strategically pull a small group of students who need more support. When I work with them, that support could look like cloze reading (I read aloud but delete a word every now and then and the students fill it in), choral whisper reading, or student whisper reading with me leaning in and helping as needed.
  3. Whole class whisper read. It may be that the text is somewhat difficult, but my kids have enough of the storyline, general understanding of the text, and decoding skills to navigate it fairly well. I could have the entire class whisper read the selection, while I circulate to listen in (especially with students who I know will need some support). I could also have the entire class whisper read it to a partner, alternating paragraphs, while I circulate to listen in. Note that if you choose this option, it's important that your students know what to do if they finish ahead of the others, that they launch it independently, and that it's good and meaningful work. For example, they could reread for fluency, write the gist of what they wrote, or begin working with some text-dependent questions.
  4. Read aloud with active engagement. Perhaps the lesson calls for reading something especially complex - say, an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence - and I know it will be read multiple times. So, for the first read, I may want to do a whole class read aloud so that they can get used to the language and general content, and then release subsequent readings to my students. In that case, I want to plan for some kind of engagement. That could be a guiding question that's posted and students will take notes as we read and then answer it at the end. It could be using cloze reading for students to fill in deleted words as I read. It could be that I read aloud while students whisper read along. Whatever the engagement practice is, it should ask something of the students - either navigating the linguistics of the text with me or thinking about the content as I read.
The more we release the reading to the students, the more opportunities they have to develop stamina, learn to grapple with complex text, and see that they can, indeed, meet the high expectations of our standards and materials. And that is a beautiful thing.

Here's to simply teaching well,

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