- To enhance fluency. Fluency is an essential part of successful reading. Fluency is based on automaticity (a reader's ability to recognize words automatically). If children are to become both automatic and fluent readers, they need practice. Preparing to read a text aloud expressively provides children with the time and means to recognize words automatically and to read a text with a high percentage of accuracy. When children practice by engaging in repeated oral readings, their levels of fluency increase significantly (Rasinski 2000; Martens 1997).
- To strengthen comprehension. When children use techniques for expressive oral reading, their comprehension of what they are reading dramatically increases. Since fluency is closely tied to comprehension, when children become smoother and more accurate readers they will also become more knowledgeable ones. By practicing a text, children will become more familiar with its words, sentence patterns, and organizational structure. Once children become familiar and comfortable with a text, they are then in a position to make discoveries about the different kinds of meanings (both denotative and connotative) that may emerge from their interaction with the text (Apol & Harris 1999). Because they are approaching and envisioning reading anew, children who know how to read expressively show a greater understanding of the texts they have chosen to read (Davis 1997).
- To develop critical reading skills. For children to read expressively, they must make conscious decisions about how to read and what they should emphasize while they are reading so that they can effectively communicate both the surface and deeper meanings of a text. For instance, if children are to read and communicate both the denotative level (content) and the connotative components (emotions and attitudes) of the opening line of Robert Louis Stevenson's "My Shadow" ("I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me"), they must decide what the text is literally saying and what emotions are being implied. Once children have decided what emotions and attitudes are being implied, they will have to decide how to use their voices to communicate those emotions and attitudes (Popp 1996; Barton & Booth 1990). By reading and expressing two levels of the text at once, children have necessarily engaged in critical thinking: they have examined and analyzed the text, made inferences, drawn conclusions, and have made informed decisions about how to vocally communicate those inferences and conclusions (Richards 2000). In this way, children who learn to read aloud expressively will become more sensitive to the workings of print language and will gain insights into what they are reading (Martinez, Roser, & Strecker 1999).
Additionally, when children gather in their reading response groups to rehearse their readings and gain feedback from their peers, they learn how to use critical listening to critique one another's readings. As they give supportive and helpful feedback to each other, children learn that texts are open to interpretation and negotiation, and that meaning is a matter of how one analyzes and performs the text (Enciso & Edmiston 1997).
- To develop other important reading skills. When children prepare to read expressively, they will develop competence in grammar, memory, attention, sequencing, and understanding cause and effect (Healy 1990). Reading well takes time, focus, and attention; and if children are going to read aloud well, they must give the requisite time, focus, and attention to prepare the text. As children prepare a text for oral reading, they will gain a greater understanding of how grammatical and rhetorical structures (sentences, stanzas, and paragraphs) work and how the sequencing of words and ideas plays an important role in the delivery of meaning (Hancock 2000).
- To help struggling readers. When struggling readers learn to use expressive oral reading skills and apply them to something they are going to read aloud, they become stronger readers. By rehearsing their readings through repeated practice, struggling readers improve their accuracy and word recognition abilities (Morado, Koenig, & Wilson 1999).
Additionally, as struggling readers read aloud, they can more effectively monitor themselves. As they read, they can listen to discover if what they are reading "sounds right" and if it makes sense. Moreover, they can also record their readings and listen to themselves; in this way, they can locate areas that need improvement and work on them. By monitoring themselves as they read aloud, struggling readers become more fluent and more confident readers (Armbruster, Lehr, & Osborn 2001).
- To build confidence. When children read with expressive skills, they will also develop more confidence in themselves as readers. No longer limited either to rapid word-calling or to stumbling over print, children will discover that, with practice and guidance, they can become more fluent, purposeful, and effective readers of the kinds of print material that had previously frustrated or befuddled them. And with repeated success, their confidence levels will rise (Davis 1997).
- To facilitate collaborative learning. As children gather together in small groups—Reading Response Groups—to practice their oral readings, they receive feedback from the other members of the group. Through the exchange of ideas about the practice readings, and through the critical feedback that they give one another, children enter into collaborative learning. As children work to assist one another to become stronger expressive readers, they work together to increase the purposefulness of learning: how to connect with one another and how to connect new skills to texts they are choosing to read aloud.
Furthermore, as groups of children learn to use expressive reading skills to read to one another in various venues (i.e., Choral Reading, Shared Reading, and Reader's Theatre), they will naturally step into the oral tradition of literature because they will have taken a large part in creating a community of interested readers and listeners. In such a community, words are relished and the sounds of speech are celebrated. Spoken words again take their rightful place at the fountainhead of communal literacy development (Gutierrez, Baquedano-L6pez, & Turner 1997).
Additionally, such a community is important because it sustains itself and it is self-supporting (Egan 1997). Since all children are reading aloud in a variety of formats, there are many avenues of support available to them: individual support, buddy support, reading support groups, and whole-group encouragement. When children realize that they are reading expressively in a supportive atmosphere, they will relax, make discoveries, and begin to take risks. In a psychologically safe environment, children will more rapidly take ownership of their reading and learning (Probst 1988).
- To enable second language learners to make gains in English literacy. If second language learners are going to develop literacy skills in English, they should engage in repeated practice, they should have scaffolds for learning new words in a meaningful way, and they should use language in a socially interactive way. By teaching second language learners to read aloud expressively, we give them the opportunity to practice the reading selection many times. In the classroom, they practice with, and get feedback from, their Reading Response Groups. Because the groups are small, and because there is a clear response procedure to follow, second language learners will feel freer to take the small risks necessary to managing and mastering a new language. Moreover, through repetition, these learners will begin to assimilate new words and word patterns (Ferguson & Young 1996). When these learners approach new texts, they can learn unfamiliar words in a safe atmosphere; they can work with a reading partner, with members of their Reading Response Groups, or with the teacher. Each of these provides meaningful scaffolds for learning new words (Abbot & Grose 1998). And when these learners present their texts in individual readings, in Reader's Theatre, or in Choral Readings, they will be dramatizing the texts they have chosen in ways that involve social interaction. Through such dramatic, social interactions, these learners will more rapidly internalize the words, structures, and meanings of a second language.
- To share newly crafted abilities with others. Once children learn how to read aloud expressively, they often become so excited that they want to read aloud more often and in more varied situations. As children become better oral readers, they will want to read aloud in the classroom, at home, and for other classes (usually of younger children) in their schools. Moreover, because they have mastered new skills, children who often felt like failures as readers will shine with new excitement as they realize and share their newly built reading expertise with others (Stayter & Allington 1991).
- To address national literacy standards. IRA/NCTE standard no. 4 asks students to adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.Excerpt from Read & Write It Out Loud! Guided Oral Literacy Strategies, by K. Polette, 2005 edition, p. 11-14.
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