I LOVE talking books and reading with friends and family. Recently, my friend Emily Allison shared with me how she uses a weekly story time in her Middle School classroom. To say I was intrigued was an understatement; I cried listening to Emily talk about this sweet tradition. I love that Emily takes time each week to read aloud to her classroom, I know I had to interview Emily so she could share with you.
1. Can you tell me about your Friday Story Time?
Emily: I got the idea for story time from a friend, Bobby Ivey, who taught high school chorus. He read a children’s book to his seniors every Friday. Four years ago, I asked him if I could use his tradition and he said absolutely! Now, every Friday at the end of each class, I sit and read with my students. I teach 6 classes ranging from 6th-8th grade so each class has a different take on the book of the week.
2. Were you worried about having a read aloud time for 6th-8th graders?
Emily: Honestly, I was incredibly self conscious. I hated reading aloud in school and didn’t have any experience doing it in my adult life either. I decided to just give it a shot and if my students hated it, I figured it would be easy to ditch. I introduced the first book on the first day of school. I read Max Lucado’s You are Special. Ever since then, I always select a particularly meaningful book for the first day of school. I use it as my theme for the year. On my 8th graders last day of school, I reread them the first book we ever read together in 6th grade. It is sentimental and we all really love it. .
3. Do you have any favorite books you’ve read to them?
Emily: Oh goodness. I don’t know if I could narrow down my list of favorites! I think my two favorite beginning of the year books are In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek and Mr. Peabody’s Apples by Madonna. They have some amazing lessons in them. My students love to act out the books as well, so the best ones for character acting are Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, George and Martha (a 4 story set) by James Marshall, Piggy Bunny by Rachel Veil, and Sixteen Cows by Lisa Wheeler.
4. Why do you think reading aloud to middle schoolers is important?
Emily: I think kids today are forced to grow up at a much younger age. They have more and more responsibility placed on them, both academically and socially. Reading aloud is so important, especially in young children. The best part about reading to my four year old at home is the shared bond we have over the stories. We enter into the world of imagination together and weeks and months later, we can still be discussing past books. This same bond is there with my middle schoolers. Story time gives them 10 minutes a week to just be a kid. We do it for pure enjoyment.
5. How has this changed your classroom dynamics?
Emily: Four years ago I made a decision to focus my attention on the positive behaviors of my students. I started pouring all of my attention into the great things going on, and rewarding them with our shared story time at the end of the week. We do a lot of activities to reinforce this basic idea, and when my attitude changed, so did my students. Story time has helped create a shared love between us beyond the music we already share. It makes my classroom feel more like a home in which they can express themselves safely while sharing their innermost hopes and dreams. Whether we are reading a new story or a childhood favorite that they brought in; whether I am a reading, a student is reading, or a guest is there, we are free. Free to escape to a world a little simpler and a little more beautiful. The positive benefits of this are indispensable.
6. What is the feedback you have gotten from your students?
Emily: My students really love it! Every Friday, the first thing they say to me is, “What book did you bring?” or “Can I be a character?” I have found some of my most reserved students enjoy taking part in story time. It is always impressive to me to see them come together! I think my 6th and 7th graders think it is fun and silly, but by the time they walk out in 8th grade, they understand the magnitude and beauty of it. When I reread to them the first book we shared in 6th grade, they can fully grasp the lesson I was trying to give them. That is always a really touching moment.
7. What does your administration think of this tradition?
Emily: I am blessed beyond measure with the most supportive administration around. They love to see all of our teachers work to create meaningful experiences in our classrooms. They give us the freedom to create a safe and creative environment in the form that works best for us. My principal has even been a guest reader!
8. What would you say to other teachers who may want to start a weekly read aloud time with their class?
Emily: Do it. Take the leap of faith needed to be vulnerable. I was so worried my students would think this was too childish. What I have found is that my students see my heart and my intentions. They have met me where I am at and they appreciate that I am trying to protect their childhood. Story time may look simple from the outside but it is so much more. My students will remember these moments. They will remember that we read The Kissing Hand on their first day of 6th grade and that it reminded them that they had someone looking out for them during some of the most challenging years of their school life. They will remember that we read A Bad Case of Stripes and that they were encouraged to be themselves even if it meant not fitting in, and they will remember reading The Night Before Christmas before each break because it reminded them that traditions carry weight and that they are important. It will also make you as a teacher seem more real. You will enter into a new world where you are more approachable and don’t we all want to be a trusted face to our students? You never know who’s life will be saved because they knew you cared.
Emily Allison has served as the choral director at East Hall Middle School in Gainesville, Ga since August of 2008. She is a lover of books and music. She enjoys investing her time in her students futures and in creating life long musicians. She resides in Toccoa, Ga with her husband Jake, their two kids Anthony and Nora, and more books than she cares to admit.
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