Reading Aloud

One of the most effective new things I did in the last few years was the decision to have students listen to a reading of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays in class, while reading along with it. Later in the year, I read those same classes most of Plato’s Apology, allowing students to hear it as a speech, read fluently and with vocal emphasis. The effects on student’s comprehension of those texts (as well as the subsequent texts by the same author) were pretty stunning.

The readings made the key ideas more readily accessible and decoded the author’s stylistic tendencies and patterns. Students weren’t fighting to read the words AND the sentences AND track the arguments. The first two were done for them, which allowed them to do the third, and that experience (I was told by many students in their exit interviews) opened up that text and the others. They found that the author/piece had value, and so they were more interested (and willing) to do the work on their own in the next one because A) they had a clue about the voice of the author; B) they had an expectation that they’d find ideas of interest in it; and C) they knew they could do it because they just had. It was really great, all around, and I’ll definitely do it again, maybe earlier, and possibly more often in future classes.

I say all of that not to break my arm patting my self on the back, but to share something that worked AND because, apparently, the idea (or an iteration of it) is something of a meme going around. I read it on Inside Higher Ed, so it must be true:

While the oral reading is as old as literature itself, it is not the norm on campuses. But faculty members and students who have participated in such readings say the events help convey messages, engage students, and foster community on their campuses in ways that reading alone cannot do. “Until you hear another student read it in his or her own voice, you don’t really understand the vast possibilities for interpretation,” said Dillon Jackson, one of Thickstun’s students.

So, if I threw a read aloud, would you come?