Monday, May 14, 2018

How I Read Along With My Upper Level Students...

As Riley and Ruben get older, I have stopped reading all their books aloud to them for obvious reasons. This has been bittersweet. Some days, it's a relief not to have to strain my voice for hours. On the other hand, I greatly miss those times of snuggling up and the discussions of our reading. This year, I found a solution, which has afforded me the best of both worlds. I scheduled Riley and Ruben to read some of the same books. Then I adapted their list as my own personal reading. Given time constraints, I'm still not able to read everything they read. But, overall, our new system went well. I was able to encourage independence in their studies while still engaging in their education. I call it read along instead of read aloud.

We use a multitude of media in order to make our reading possible. Given Ruben's dyslexia, he reads some books traditionally and listens to some on audio. Our library system offers certain titles on a gadget called a Playaway. Playaways are small MP3 devices containing an individual audiobook. There is no download or WI-FI necessary. We simply add a battery and our headphones. Because of their size, smaller than a deck of cards, they are very portable. And, since they are pretty much foolproof, Levi (age 5) has enjoyed several books on Playaway as well. We have also used books on CD, Audible, and Librovox to aid in our reading since not every book is available on a Playaway. These various types of media have allowed me hands free reading while I'm cooking and doing laundry. I also use audio versions in the early morning or late evening, when it's dark and my eyes are tired.

This year, the three of us finished reading several of the same books independently through use of above mentioned mixed media, including:

Watership Down by Richard Adams
- Riley read a hard copy
- Ruben listened to CD
- I used a mix of Playaway and hard copy

The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain
- Riley and Ruben read a hardcopy
- I listened on Librovox

English Literature for Boys and Girls by H.E. Marshall
- Riley and I read a hardcopy

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
- Riley and I read using a mix of hardcopy and Audible

The Daughter in Time by Josephine Tey
- Riley and I read hardcopy

In addition to our mixed media, I did still read aloud certain titles. In our second term, I threw in a couple of bedtime read alouds as winters are cold, dark, and long here in Wisconsin. There's no better time to gather round a great book than December through February. These titles included Black Fox of Lorne by Marguerite de Angeli and Otto of the Silver Hand by Howard Pyle.

I also slipped a few read alouds into our Morning Time that I wanted everyone to be exposed to at one time. These were:

How to Be Your Own Selfish Pig by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
In His Steps by Charles Sheldon
Citizenship by Charlotte Mason - select readings
Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? by Richard Maybury
Brendan Voyage by Tim Severin
The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin Wiker
The Elements by Theodore Gray - select readings
How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler - select readings
Macbeth by Shakespeare
The Story of Painting by Janson
Grammar-Land by M.L. Nesbitt

Lastly, Ruben and I read many of the same books Riley read for her Beautiful Feet Intermediate History study, albeit on our own time schedule. Some of which, I read aloud to him, often times, reading alternate chapters individually, particularly toward the end of the year as Ruben became stronger in his reading ability and started gaining a desire for independence. It got to be a game where he would sneak the book and read ahead of me. I wholeheartedly played along, stifling my excitement in his inclination toward self-sufficiency.These books included:

Beowulf by Michael Morpurgo
One Thousand and One Arabian Nights by Geraldine McCaughrean
King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green
Robin Hood - Ruben and I read a different edition than Riley, but we were still able to compare and discuss
Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Gray
The Kite Rider by Geraldine McCaughrean
Morning Star of the Reformation by Andy Thomson
Crispin: The Cross of Lead by AVI
The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly

When I look back at the list, it seems like a tremendous amount of books, but we weren't reading them all at one time. I find much can be accomplished with a chapter a day over a 12-36 week period. Also, reading living books is our primary means of education. We don't use much in the way of textbooks for things like history, literature, and science.

Using mixed media to read along with my upper level students has allowed me to continue to participate in their education, while fostering their independence. At the same time, I'm thankful for a chance to recover my own education with the use of so many great books! I will definitely continue the read along method throughout their high school years. Reading together as a family is super important to me, whether it be by read aloud or read along. It has opened a wealth of wonderful conversations within our family and has provided for intimate wit in a variety of social settings. I believe a family that reads together, stays together.


  1. Melissa, did I miss a review of Beowulf - the one BF recommends? I'm trying to decide if I want my upcoming yr 7 and 8 students to read their suggested version or plunge into the translation by Seamus Heaney. I own both. AO has it slated for the group form 3A.

    1. Quick search found your review. ;-)

    2. So glad you found it Tami! I loved Morpurgo's retelling and think it's a wonderful introduction to Beowulf. It made me excited at the prospect of reading Heaney's translation in high school. Personally, I love a solid younger year retelling as prep for a hefty version. We did retellings of the Iliad and Odyssey in middle school also and I have no regrets. Now that we have a better handle on the plot, we look forward to studying a Lattimore or Fagles translation next year in high school. Blessings in your decision :)

  2. Good ideas, Melissa. It is exciting when you see them getting more capable in their reading when they’ve had to work hard. I remember one of my sons listening to one of Robert Louis Stevenson’s books when he as sick. He’d struggled to read for quite a few years but he enjoyed listening to th3 book so much he made a pn effort to read it. It was just the spark he needed to get going on his own. You’re doing a great job.

  3. Sorry about my spelling glitches!