Literacy expert and author Pam Allyn is the founder of LitWorld, a global literacy initiative serving children across the United States and in more than 60 countries. She recently spoke with Suzanne McCabe, host of the Scholastic Reads podcast, about World Read Aloud Day, an annual celebration that takes place this year on February 3. Here are highlights from their conversation.
Q: This is the 12th annual World Read Aloud Day celebration. How has reading aloud transformed as a practice over the years?
Pam Allyn: We now can use so many different digital tools to share the read-aloud. I’ve seen this during the pandemic. Educators have gone on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to share a read-aloud. There are a lot more offerings for children that are digitized. Scholastic, the title sponsor for World Read Aloud Day (WRAD) for a decade now, has an eReader for schools called Scholastic Literacy Pro®, and there’s a way to hear read-alouds that is already built-in. Artificial intelligence, too, has made the read-aloud feel even more powerful.
My mother loves to listen to audiobooks and will tell me, “So-and-so read this book aloud, and it was amazing.” It may have been someone famous, an actor she likes. Those are things that are pretty different.
I like to think that because of WRAD, reading aloud is a more popular thing to do. It’s not just something for once in a while. I think people see the impact. The Scholastic Kids & Family Reading Report™ has shown an increase in the number of parents reading aloud to young children and the benefits for social-emotional development and learning. But we’ve also found that parents still aren’t reading to their children as much as we’d like to see beyond third and fourth grade. My big push is to say, “Don’t stop reading aloud.”
I think about all of the benefits of the read-aloud and my reading aloud to our daughters all the way through high school. Even when they come home now as grown women, when they sit down with me, and I read aloud to them from a poem or from an article in the news, they’re habituated to that. They really love it. They lean right back into it. Of course, I love it when they read aloud to me.
The Kids & Family Reading Report points out what we’re doing well and what we’ve gotten better at, but also what we need to work on. Our older students need us to read aloud to them. There’s a lot of deep comprehension work that happens. It’s something parents can do at home, too, to increase their child’s comprehension skills.
Q: What advice do you have for educators who are looking for ways to create special read-aloud moments with their students while teaching in a virtual or hybrid setting?
Pam Allyn: On our WRAD website, you can sign up for a virtual kit. It has book recommendations, virtual backgrounds for read-aloud memories, fun activities like making Reading Crowns, which allow children to express what’s on their reading minds, and so much more. Most important, enjoy the experience of reading aloud. Don’t feel that you have to be too instructional. Don’t stop and ask a million comprehension questions. Just let the day be a celebration. We all need that, especially children. We can embrace the fact that the read-aloud brings a lot of joy. Relax into that. You deserve the joy, too, and you’re doing great. I’ll say to teachers: You are all amazing, and let WRAD be a day of celebration.
Q: What do you want caregivers and parents to know about reading aloud at home with young children?
Pam Allyn: What I want everyone to know is that the read-aloud confers extraordinary benefits on the listener. One is a sense of safety, of creating a world of belonging for your child, where it feels good. You can shut out all the noise and create a safe space.
It’s something that everyone can do. You don’t have to be the world’s best reader. You actually don’t even have to know how to read. You can tell stories just looking at the pictures in a children’s book, and you can invite your child to be with you in the telling of the story. The read-aloud is a kind and loving place to be, not only for the child, but for the adult. Nothing has to be perfect.
Finally, the read-aloud is great for building skills. Research shows that the read-aloud is marinating children or teenagers—people of all ages—in the written language, in a way that’s accessible. Because children’s literature and young adult literature often use really beautiful metaphors and conventions and structures and language, all of that is just marinating in that child. The read-aloud also is shown to improve reading skills, even though sometimes parents will say, “What does that have to do with reading? My child can read on their own.” Keep reading to your child even after you think they can read on their own.
Q: How will you be celebrating WRAD this year?
Pam Allyn: I’m planning to jump on a lot of different Zoom calls with different schools. I love doing that because I can be in a million places at once. I also plan to touch base with Malcolm Mitchell, whose new book, My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World, is our featured title of the year. And I plan to connect with my own family. We do a lot of Zooming. Our extended family is not together because of the pandemic, so I plan to call all of them in the evening and find a way to celebrate. They’ve always been incredibly supportive of WRAD.
Q: What are you reading right now?
Pam Allyn: I just finished Caste by Isabelle Wilkerson. It’s one of the most important books I’ve ever read, maybe one of the most life-changing. The caste system comparisons that the author makes between the United States, India, and Germany are pretty intense and really revelatory and important, so I highly recommend the book.
And then I’m reading a ton of children’s books, as always, and there are some really great authors whose books have been selected for the WRAD list, including Joy Cho and Ross Burach. And Aida Salazar. I just finished her amazing novel in verse, Land of the Cranes. I’m a voracious reader, so I tend to be reading lots of books at once. I have one downstairs book, one upstairs book. I have a book on my Kindle. When people ask me what I’m reading, they have to get ready because I’ve got a lot to say.
Image courtesy of Pam Allyn