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Reading aloud gets new impetus

Shakespeare and Seuss inspire and entertain

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“Everybody loves to be read to,” said Julie Rosslee, director of English language arts, reading and libraries in the Wantagh School District. Nearly everyone has evocative memories of being read to by a treasured caregiver as a child, or of reading to children as a parent or grandparent.

To help promote reading aloud, Rosslee and Ryan Aliperti, the Wantagh district’s director of humanities and literacy, decided to hold a districtwide celebration of World Read Aloud Day at Wantagh Elementary School early last month. Down the road, third-grade teacher Danielle DiStefano, a reading specialist at Seaford Harbor Elementary School, was organizing her own Read Aloud observance with children’s author Jarrett Lerner.

“Children are read to until they’re old enough to read by themselves,” Aliperti said. “If they have younger siblings, they might read to them.” But reading aloud has some advantages that silent reading lacks.

According to the three educators, the experience of live reading is important at every age. “We listen differently when we’re being read to,” Rosslee explained. And the additional stimulus of another person, especially if the reading is dynamic, aids in both comprehension and retention. That the reader is not the teacher can be an added advantage, she said. “Students get tired of listening to the teacher, and can sometimes tune out a familiar voice.”

“[Reading aloud] helps with the mechanics,” DiStefano said. “And it helps build confidence.”

Read Aloud Day was launched 10 years ago by LitWorld International Inc. in conjunction with the Scholastic Corp. This is the first year it has been celebrated in the Seaford and Wantagh districts. Rosslee said she and Aliperti began organizing their event about three weeks in advance “on the fly, in addition to all the other things we were doing.”

With such a short lead time, they decided not to try to integrate parents and outsiders into the process, Aliperti said. Older students read to younger ones, and administrators and clerical staff read to high school students. District Superintendent] John McNamara got in on the act with a reading from a biography of basketball superstar Michael Jordan called “Salt in My Shoes.” Wantagh High School Assistant Principal James Brown, an experienced actor, read from William Shakespeare’s sonnets. And Dr. Marc Ferris, assistant superintendent for instruction and curriculum, read a book about grit, Rosslee said.

“Even Abe [Ramirez], our security guard, read something,” Aliperti added. Rodriguez, who is bilingual, read a story in Spanish and English about hair to a bilingual class. “I knew some of them didn’t speak such good English, and figured it might be nice to have someone read to them in Spanish,” he said. “And most of the other kids said they understood Spanish, too, when I asked them” — although he acknowledged that they might have exaggerated their linguistic prowess.

At Seaford Harbor, DiStefano arranged for a videoconference with Lerner via Skype. During the videoconference, he read excerpts from his book “Enginerds,” and then answered questions.

“I met Jarrett at nErD Camp” — a professional development program for educators — DiStefano said. “He’s really funny, and that made it easy for students to relate. And he illustrates his own books. It was very motivating to hear a real author talk about his books and what it’s like to be an author,” she said.

“Students love the book, especially because the story features robotics,” Di-Stefano said. “They love anything STEAM-oriented.”

Next year, she said, she hopes to expand the program to include more classes.

As a follow-up to Read Aloud Day, Di-Stefano and her class visited the school’s kindergarten classes as part of Read Across America celebrations on March 1. And since the event coincided with the 115th birthday festivities in honor of Theodore Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, students chose their favorite Dr. Seuss books to read aloud to their younger schoolmates.

Students dressed in costumes, including red bow ties and tall red-and-white-striped Cat in the Hat hats. They chose words ending in “at” and searched for rhymes: hat, cat, bat, splat. One student wore a large badge emblazoned with “Thing 3.” She explained that although Seuss’s book had only two “things,” she had more than two close fiends. So they decided to be Things 3 and 4.

Students gathered in groups of four or five kindergartners to each third-grader. The younger students listened raptly as the older students intoned, “One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish …” A few students said they preferred to read by themselves, but most agreed with Rosslee that everyone loves to be read to.