In a recent experiment in seventh-grade classes for below average-readers, Deborah Phelps Zientarski, Cedar Springs High School, Cedar Springs, Michigan, and Donald D. Pottorff, Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, Michigan, demonstrated that reading aloud to students increased their reading skills as well as their interest in and enjoyment of literature.
Zientarski and Pottorff point out that research confirms the importance of listening comprehension. In a nationwide sample of thousands of students, the best predictor of performance on high-school aptitude and achievement tests was listening comprehension in the fifth grade.
The first priority of this experiment was to interest students in books. Zientarski began by reading “Drama in Real Life,” a series of sensational and inspirational stories from Reader’s Digest. Although skeptical at first, students very soon began looking through Reader’s Digests to find more stories for the teacher to read. When the supply of “Drama in Real Life” stories was exhausted, the novel Killing Mr. Griffin, by Lois Duncan, was selected. This novel was not received enthusiastically at first. However, as the story’s drama intensified, students became interested and began discussing its characterization, plot, theme, vocabulary and resolution. By the end of the novel, students were true fans of Lois Duncan, and three more of her novels were read aloud. By this time, students were demonstrating sophisticated listening skills; their questions, comments and predictions showed increased awareness and understanding. Importantly, even previously unengaged students made more of an effort to cooperate with the class in order to earn more listening time.
Because students’ knowledge of mythology was weak, the next oral readings were in this area. Following this, Our John Willie, by Catherine Cookson, was read. Set in a mining town around 1850, this story enriched students’ knowledge of history, dialects and vocabulary.
Zientarski and Pottorff emphasize that while some students have difficulty reading, it should not be assumed that they have difficulty thinking. This experiment, they assert, demonstrates that the quality of student discussion was improved by exposure to higher-quality literature. Reading aloud to below-average readers significantly increased their enthusiasm for reading, as well as their critical listening skills and their background knowledge in areas previously inaccessible to them.
“Reading aloud to Low Achieving Secondary Students”, Reading Horizons, Volume 35, Number 1, pp. 44-51
Published in ERN January/February 1995, Volume 8, Number 1