Reading Aloud Is Not for Everyone

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Reading Aloud

Reading aloud is an old and popular practice long advocated by both writers and teachers to revise a written piece of work, according to the University of Massachusetts. Interestingly, it is still widely considered a childlike activity; often reminiscent of elementary school days when the teachers used to ask the students to read an entire lesson or at least a part of it in the classroom, according to a peer-reviewed journal entitled Voices from the Middle (VM).

The journal contains an article written by Teri S. Lesesne in May 2006. She attempts to clear up the misconception surrounding the practice of reading aloud by upholding its efficacy as a valid strategy for all students, regardless of their age. For this, she offers anecdotal research evidence in the form of classroom investigation. Lesesne reiterates a venerable belief – that the act, as opined by the educators, promotes positive attitudes toward books and reading by affecting comprehension and, ultimately, test results.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education published a report entitled Becoming a Nation of Readers in Reading Aloud1985.
Considered a landmark publication in the field of education, the report has made one of the strongest arguments in favor of reading aloud as a practice.

It labels reading aloud to children as “the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for their eventual success in reading, apart from making it essential not just at home with young children but at school with older readers.”

The federal government’s publication actively supports reading aloud because it serves a twin purpose of both facilitating the children’s learning process and the teacher’s mapping or assessment of the same.

On one hand, it considers the activity as providing ample learning opportunities to children by allowing them to correlate their own reading experiences at home, nursery schools and kindergartens with what the adults read out loud to them.

This outcome is presented in an article published in 2008 by the medical staff of the Reach Out and Read National Center, a nonprofit organization which helps young children succeed by incorporating books into their pediatric care in their early years and encourages families to read aloud together. The article appeared in a journal entitled Archives of Disease in Childhood and highlights three benefits of reading aloud to young children.

  • First, early acquisition of language skills in children takes place by building word-sound awareness in them, which is a powerful predictor of reading success.
  • Second, children develop positive attitudes toward books and reading when they are read to aloud.
  • Third, reading aloud helps build a stronger foundation for school success. It exposes children in their early years to rare words and ideas not often found in day-to-day conversations. It also develops the critical skill of listening.

On the other hand, teachers can also readily observe the children’s reading process or patterns and diagnose any problems. This would enable the teachers to focus their lessons accordingly.

Despite the visible benefits for young children, the practice does not seem to yield equally transparent results for slightly older children, as clear from an equally strong body of research. In a book written by Jeanne A. Smith Muzillo in 2007 entitled “From Reading Aloud to Oral Interpretation: Orality’s Effects on the Narrative Retellings of Secondary School Students,” she levels criticism against reading aloud. The premise is that the practice does little besides offering classroom maintenance advantages, with those benefits hardly extending individually to the secondary school students. Muzillo has included a number of studies in the book.

For example, she cites a 1993 study that failed to find any remarkable difference in responses composed by 12th graders after they read aloud, either together or individually.

Similarly, talking about college students, a 1985 study ranked the different learning methodologies with regards to their effectiveness. The investigation placed oral reading to one’s self and reading aloud to an audience as the worst method to facilitate comprehension, while both silent reading alone coupled with listening were more conducive.

Additionally, even if the target audience is not older students, reading English aloud only complicates matters. This is primarily due to the language’s outlier status in comparison to other world languages in terms of the inherent difficulty encountered in learning to read it, according to Jean Stilwell Peccei. The publication proves its point by highlighting vastly different ages across the globe, especially in European and Scandinavian countries, at which children begin learning to read English.

The already existing linguistic challenge gets compounded when reading aloud due to the language’s daunting orthography, or that part of language study which deals with the representation of sounds of a language by written or printed symbols, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary.

According to the book, this orthographic challenge makes the going tough even for English-speaking children who start at a very young age, leaving aside adolescents whose orthographic understanding of the language has already crystallized. The outcome is that reading aloud would only tend to confuse them more.

This is evident from the 40 percent reading-accuracy level attained for simple words like boat, boy, etc., and non-word readings of meaningless letter strings such as eb and fip, which are decodable by English speakers. In comparison, there is a 90 percent reading accuracy obtained by languages such as Greek, Italian and German.

Hence, this once again proves that, despite being an old and popular practice to revise a piece of written work, reading aloud is not for everyone.

Opinion by Bashar Saajid


University of Massachusetts: Revising by Reading Aloud. What the Mouth and Ear Know
Voices from the Middle (2006): Reading Aloud: A Worthwhile Investment – Vol. 13, No. 4 by Teri S. Lesesne
Becoming a Nation of Readers – The Report of the Commission on Reading (1985): The National Institute of Education (U.S. Department of Education) by Richard C. Anderson, Elfrieda H. Hiebert, Judith A. Scott and Ian A.G. Wilkinson
Reach Out and Read National Center: About Us
Archives of Disease in Childhood (2008): Reading aloud to children: The evidence
From Reading Aloud to Oral Interpretation: Orality’s Effects on the Narrative Retellings of Secondary School Students (2007): ProQuest by Jeanne A. Smith Muzillo
Child Language: A Resource Book for Students (2006): Psychology Press by Jean Stilwell Peccei
Merriam-Webster Dictionary: Full Definition of Orthography  

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First Inline Image Courtesy of Hannah Burgess Flickr Page – Creative Commons License