PLEASE Read Aloud…Everyday!

51xst57S-NL._SX396_BO1,204,203,200_Today I am writing to thank author Steven Layne for speaking at the VSRA (Virginia State Reading Association) 2017 Conference.  Dr. Layne gave the general session address on Friday, March 17th.  His presentation focused around his book “In Defense of Read-Aloud.”

Read Alouds need to be a non-negotiable in classrooms.  Unfortunately, too many teachers say they do not have the time to fit a daily read aloud into their schedule.  I argue you make time for what you value.

Why should you make time?  Why should read alouds be valued?

Reading aloud fosters:

  • positive attitudes about reading
  • language development
  • comprehension (reaction to text)
  • fluency (through modeling)
  • community and empathy
  • listening skills
  • interest and exposure to different genres

In Layne’s book he cites 127 research studies and found NO RESEARCH AGAINST reading aloud!

Convinced yet?  If not, you can get a preview of the first 16 pages on Amazon to read.

Once you decide to make time for a read aloud, your next objective will be work on deciding what book(s) to read.  Dr. Layne asked us to think carefully about launching our read alouds.  Spend time building students’ background knowledge on the setting and look at the author’s website with students.  Layne says you will know the launch phase of the read aloud is over when students beg you to keep reading.

As you continue to read aloud to your students check to make sure you are reading a variety of genres.

A final thing teachers need to think about it when reading aloud is…performance.  Layne talked about 5 qualities of fluent reading:

  1. Dictation
  2. Volume
  3. Pace
  4. Tone – Quality of voice
  5. Pitch – High and low of voice

HOW you read text impacts comprehension and students need to see that demonstrated.

I know testing season is coming upon us…which makes me plead even louder to find time to read aloud.  Students need to see reading as a fun and enjoyable activity not another passage with questions.

So, make time to read aloud.  You can do it and you won’t regret it!





Defining Nonfiction


The beginning of the school year often begins with a discussion of the broad genres of fiction and nonfiction.  In hopes to be a better nonfiction teacher I have finally started reading this text.

Did you know…

  • that all writing was nonfiction at the beginning of time?
  • the genre of fiction was not found in print until the 1400s and was defined as “an invention of the mind.”
  • it wasn’t until 1909 that the genre nonfiction was created to classify any book as being “not fiction.”
  • teachers in grades 1-12 were asked how they define the word nonfiction and most said “informational texts.”
  • nonfiction often requires MORE background knowledge than reading fiction does.

Here is the best quote from the beginning of this text:

  • We wouldn’t argue with telling students that nonfiction texts offer information.  But when we tell students that nonfiction means true, then we have created a potential conflict for them because there is a great deal that is classified as nonfiction that happens to be inaccurate, untrue, and occasionally even deceitful. p. 16

Here are some warnings about telling students nonfiction means TRUE:

  • we excuse them from the task of deciding if the text is accurate, free of biases, or contradicts their thinking.
  • we imply that their job is simply to learn and absorb the information in the text.
  • The author is not offering the TRUTH, but one vision of the truth.

So, reading nonfiction is about challenge and change!  Readers must:

  • question the text
  • question the author
  • question their understanding
  • possibly change their views

The authors recommend this definition of nonfiction:

Nonfiction is the body of work in which the author purports to tell us about the real world, a real experience, a real person, an idea, or a belief. p. 21

What is your definition of nonfiction?  Are you willing to change it?


Authors’ Stories


I recently attended the 13th Annual Longwood University Summer Literacy Institute.  Day one of the institute included presentations from 5 different authors.  I always find it so interesting to hear authors share their writing process.  Hardly ever does it match the structured process that teachers traditionally instruct in school.

Below are the authors that presented this year and my takeaways from their presentations:

Marfe Ferguson Delano


Bio: Marfé Ferguson Delanois the author of more than 20 nonfiction books for children, including Master George’s People,  Earth in the Hot Seat, and award-winning biographies of Albert Einstein (Genius), Thomas Edison (Inventing the Future), and Annie Sullivan (Helen’s Eyes). Her most recent titles are the picture books Baby Animals and A Tree Grows Up. A graduate of Duke University, Marfé lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

As a writer of nonfiction Marfe stressed the importance of really getting to know your topic and experiencing it first hand.  When she was asked to write a book about caving she went caving.  For her book on Anne Sullivan she visited Helen Keller’s birthplace and school.

For her biographies she writes quotations on notecards during her research phase and then organizes her notecards, outlines the story, and then writes a first draft.  She works to include all the “oh wow, facts” she uncovered and stated that a favorite line of hers is “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”

For her nonfiction picture books she has a spiral notebook for her brainstorming.  She begins with a topic and then writes down all the words that come to mind when she thinks of that topic.  As she reads up on her topic she adds words to this list.  Next, she makes a list of questions about her topic careful to check on assumptions.  She drafts her story on notecards and then types these up to send to her editor.

Steve Watkins


Bio: Steve Watkins is the author of Juvie, a young adult novel about juvenile incarceration, and Great Falls, a post-Iraq War novel.  He has four books in his middle-grade Ghosts of War series.  Steve is also the author of What Comes After, which was named by Bank Street College as one of the best YA books of 2012 and selected as a finalist for the Georgia Peach Award for YA Fiction. His YA novel Down Sand Mountain won the 2009 Golden Kite Award for Fiction from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  A graduate of Florida State University, Steve taught journalism, creative writing, and Vietnam War literature at the University of Mary Washington.

Steve Watkins was humorous in his presentation and more off the cuff.  He talked about his childhood and what lead him to be an author and a yoga instructor!  He said that he wrote his first story in grade school and that his parents made copies of it to give to family at Christmas time.

Kristen-Paige Madonia


Bio: Kristen-Paige Madonia is the author of the young adult novels Invisible Fault Lines and Fingerprints of You. Hailed by Judy Blume as “a remarkable young novelist,” Kristen-Paige was the 2012 D. H. Lawrence Fellow, and her short fiction has appeared in such publications as the Greensboro Review, Five Chapters, New Orleans Review, American Fiction: Best Previously Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Writers, and the Sycamore Review. She was the 2010 recipient of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival award and was granted the Marianne Russo Fellowship to attend the 2008 Key West Literary Seminar. She holds an MFA from California State University, Long Beach, and currently lives in Charlottesville, Virginia where she teaches creative writing at the University of Virginia and James Madison University.

Kristen told us that she writes books that she wished she had access to as a reader.  She shared she always has a notebook with her and said “we are watchers of the world that is.”

Mark Tyler Nobleman


Bio:  Marc Tyler Nobleman is the author of Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman (which made the front page of USA Today) and Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman (which inspired a TED talk…and changed pop culture history). Upcoming titles include Thirty Minutes Over Oregon, Fairy Spell, The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra, and Brave Like My Brother. He has spoken at schools and conferences internationally from Thailand to Tanzania and blogs about adventures in publishing from research victories to promotional gambles at Noblemania.

Mark did not talk about his most recent book…instead he shared with us the story behind his favorite book he has written called Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.  The story was fascinating and I am excited to receive my copy in the mail today.  To get a taste of the story watch his Ted Talk below:

Louise Borden


Bio: author of over 30 books for young readers, graduated from Denison University with a degree in history.  She taught first graders and preschoolers and later was a part-owner of a bookstore in Cincinnati, Ohio. In addition to writing children’s books, she speaks regularly to young students about the writing process. She also has done extensive research for her books including The Journey that Saved Curious George and His Name was Raoul Wallenberg.  Some of her other titles include Good Luck, Mrs. K!, which won the Christopher Award, The A+ Custodian, The Day Eddie Met the Author, Across the Blue Pacific, and Kindergarten Luck. Louise lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Louise Borden started shared with us special teachers in her life.  She talked about the important connection reading has to her writing stating “I was a reader before a writer.”

Day two of the institue was all day with Donalyn Miller.  Check back tomorrow to see what I learned from her!