Reading and Reading aloud
Published on: Sunday, November 17, 2019
By: Jocelyn Lee

HAVE you ever noticed some children who could read fluently but have problems comprehending a text? There are others who can’t read a single word on the page but may understand when they are read to. Reading aloud means to pronounce words correctly. It is the ability to associate the sound with the printed words on the page or on the screen.

Generally, in a reading lesson in Malaysian schools, students are asked to choral repeat the passage known as group read-aloud (e.g., Ghanaguru, Ng &, Ng, 2019; Yacoob, 2006; Yacoob & Pinter, 2008). It is presumed that students who can read aloud fluently are good readers. The truth is pronunciation and understanding are two distinct elements, yet important aspects of reading. Pronunciation is to give each syllable a sound so that fluency is achieved. Understanding a text is more complicated. It involves the readers’ vocabulary size, their prior knowledge of the topic, syntax and lexis to make sense of the text. In the higher-order processes, making inferences and reasoning are involved.

The goal of this paper is to discuss reading aloud in the classrooms. In the first section, I will focus briefly what student reading aloud is and suggest ways to improve reading fluency. In the second section, I will emphasise the importance of teacher reading aloud to students.

Students read aloud

When struggling readers are asked to read aloud, their focus is on decoding a text correctly on the page without paying attention to the meaning construction or thinking about the narrative. They use all their mental faculties to decode words.

As a result, they lose focus and are not able to comprehend the words on the page. This is a challenge for at-risk students. The thought of pronouncing correctly each word in the paragraph fills them with dread as they cannot listen to others who are reading. Therefore, reading aloud can be a stressor.

 When students struggle to read the sections of text aloud or when they mispronounce, teachers tend to correct them on the spot. At best, the students repeat the word and learn the right way of pronouncing it. At worst, this may cause humour and shame particularly when they are laughed at by their friends. Eventually, this kills their interest in reading. As evidenced by other research, oral reading can be nerve-racking to some students. Even good readers feel uncomfortable to read aloud, they feel embarrassed and worried about what others may think of them if they cannot pronounce properly.

Having said that, reading fluency is crucial. Research has showed that reading fluency and comprehension are highly correlated. That means when students are reading fluently, it is likely that they understand what they are reading.

Teaching phonics is one way to help young learners improve their reading fluency. Each letter in English has a sound called a phoneme. Children learn the three-letter word or CVC word which comprised of a consonant, a vowel and another consonant. Then they are introduced to vowel digraphs. A digraph is made up of two vowels put together to make a sound. For example, /oo/, /ee/, and /ai/ are vowel digraphs. This is followed by introducing consonant digraphs i.e., two consonants put together to make one sound such as /ch/, /th/. In other words, children move from learning individual letter sound to blending the sound and finally saying the whole word and subsequently a sentence.

Readers theatre is another effective way of teaching reading fluency. It is a technique for students to read aloud with expressions. Readers theatre is like a small-scale drama in which students do not need to memorise their parts. They retain their scripts and hold them with their left hands. Like drama, students are able to move freely, using gestures and body movements. Readers theatre can be performed anywhere – it can be the floor of the classroom – without stage sets, costumes or props. Instead, readers use their voices to express themselves. Repeated reading is the gem of readers theatre. Students practise reading before performing and this gives them a purpose to read aloud and to perform which they enjoy fondly. Since everyone has a part, students will not feel that they are put on a spot, not even struggling readers. As students practise reading over and over again, fluency is achieved. Not only that, their comprehension also improves. In essence, readers theatre helps develop fluency and increase comprehension.

Teachers read to students

Teachers reading aloud to students bridges the divide to literacy. Reading aloud to students “motivates students to read on their own, model good reading, promote critical thinking, and create a sense of community in the classroom” (Oczkus, 2012). Early childhood educators have long been aware of the importance of reading aloud to children and the role it plays in children’s emergent literacy development and eventual reading achievement (Bus, van Ijzendoorn, & Pellegrini, 1999; Fox, 2013; Kalb & van Ours, 2014; Swanson, Vaughn, Wanzek, Petscher, Heckert, Cavanaugh, Kraft, & Tackett, 2011). 

Reading to students in general, is missing in Malaysian schools. Most students go through primary schools or secondary schools without anyone reading to them. In a recent preliminary study on 54 18- to 19-year-olds, 37pc of them have never read any children stories in English. 33pc read one children story. Only 7.7pc of the respondents claimed that they read five children stories. Out of 54 students, three students read famous children tales like Ugly Duckling, and two read Little Red Riding Hood. This can be understood as English is learned as a second language, while others a foreign language.

In another study on 38 primary school teachers in Sabah, 81.6pc of them state that they use the prescribed text book to teach reading most of the times. This implies that students will rarely have a chance to read children tales in English if teachers do not introduce this genre or read to them in the classroom. 

Reading aloud to someone is a shared reading experience between a child and a parent or guardian or teacher (Ledger & Merganser, 2018). Recent research has shown that reading aloud to children enhances children’s social-emotional development and sustains impacts on attention problems crucial for education and health (Mendelssohn et al., 2018).

Programme for International Student Assessment or PISA Test results in 2009 found that reading books to young primary students and talking with adolescents about books have a positive bearing on students’ learning (OECD, 2012). This shows that reading aloud is not just limited to young children.

Although reading aloud to is not a panacea, its benefit is enormous in terms of nurturing the literacy development of all students, including at-risk students. An analysis of 29 studies found that read-aloud interventions have significant effects on children’s language, their phonological awareness, print concepts, comprehension, and vocabulary suggesting that read-aloud interventions increase at-risk children’s literacy outcomes than children who do not take part in these interventions (Swanson et al. 2012). Reading to students helps develop students’ concept of print, story structure and the other elements of texts. It also enriches students’ information about the text. In a seminal report Becoming a Nation of Readers: The report of the Commission on Reading (1985), Anderson, Hebert, Scott and Wilkinson contend that:

The opportunities to read aloud and listen to others read aloud are features of the literate environment, whatever the reader’s level. There is no substitute for a teacher who reads children good stories. It whets the appetite of children for reading and provides a model of skilful oral reading. It is a practice that should continue throughout the grades (p. 51).

Teachers model the act of reading in the classroom has a flurry of benefits. Research has shown that teacher modelling in reading aloud practices has positively impact secondary students’ attitudes towards reading. Attitude refers to one’s “preference for a topic, subject, or activity” (Albright, 2000, p. 17). By modelling, it means teachers read dramatically using vivid expressions and expressive movements such as hand gestures and facial expressions. When teachers model reading behaviours particularly pronunciation, style, and intonation, it motivates students to read aloud and thereby improve their reading attitude. However, in Clark and Andreasen’s study (2014), the researchers found that the level of students’ engagement during teacher read aloud was inconsistent. Some students enjoyed the story, while the others did not. Some claimed that they enjoyed teacher reading aloud because the ambience was more relaxing than when teacher was teaching. These students felt that they were not asked to read so they were relieved, particularly students who were apathetic.

McGee and Schickedanz (2007) claim that unless books are shared with students involving them in asking and answering question, making predictions and inferences, reading aloud to students cannot increase students’ vocabularies and also their understanding (Dickinson, 2001). In other words, listening to stories passively is insufficient. Interaction with the teacher and peers after reading aloud can increase students’ vocabulary knowledge (Hargrave & Senechal, 2000). That means when students actively participate in dialogic and analytical thinking, reading aloud session becomes alive, paving the way for the growth of literacy development.

Bernadette Dwyer (2019), the past president of International Literacy Association says that, “lack of literacy [is] a problem we can no longer ignore.” Our students can’t learn to read by confining to ‘reading’ the English textbook in class. I echo the International Literacy Association’s Children’s Rights to Read initiative: ensuring equity, equality of opportunity, and social justice for all children. Whatever backgrounds our students come from, whatever ethnicities they are, or whatever their social circumstances they are, we are held responsible for our students’ right to read! 


l Jocelyn (Phd) is with Academy of Language Studies, UTM in Kota Kinabalu

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