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Read Me a Story: Ready Readers Uses Read-Alouds to Support Early Literacy

Joel Nunez

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a.k.a. the “nation’s report card,” children in America are flunking reading. Last year, the NAEP results showed that two-thirds of children did not meet the standard for reading proficiency and that the rate had actually dropped since the previous assessment in 2017.                 

Yet, many schools fail to incorporate one of the most effective tools for improving literacy: the read-aloud. This tool is widely considered a factor in optimizing children’s learning because read-alouds actually help kids, even those who cannot read yet, to develop the muscles they will need to become proficient readers.

Despite overwhelming evidence of the read-aloud’s virtues, a study by Susan Neuman, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Education, and Tanya Wright, an associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University, found that out of 600 hours of instruction kindergarten teachers spent an average of just 8.36 minutes reading literature aloud.

In recognition of the important role read-alouds play in a young child’s learning, five years ago ExpandED spearheaded a new afterschool literacy program. With funding from the Brooke Astor Fund for New York Education in the New York Community Trust, ExpandED and its community-based partners, CAMBA, the Chinese-American Planning Council, and Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, ExpandED was able to launch Ready Readers in afterschool programs that serve thousands of young New Yorkers.

As an afterschool program, Ready Readers has greater flexibility than school-day reading instruction, which is typically built on drills and worksheets. In the case of Ready Readers, the skill-building is embedded in a joy-filled curriculum based on stories that reflect the diversity found in NYC classrooms and follow-on activities that tap kids’ imaginations. In short, the program is eye-opening, creative, and, most of all fun. There’s nothing kids like more than fun!

As one second grader noted: “In day school we just read the read-aloud and then answer some simple questions. In afterschool, we read the book and then do a fun activity. And sometimes we even get to use silly voices.”

But a program is only as good as those who run it. So, in addition to providing the curriculum and a library, ExpandED also equips afterschool educators with the tools they need to instill a love of stories in their young, K-3 charges.

By all accounts – from the joy on students’ faces during the read-alouds to the satisfaction educators report to the growing demand for Ready Readers from community-based  organizations that run afterschool programs – the Ready Readers model is working to help students build their literacy muscles. Please read "A New Chapter in Early Literacy," a report that describes why Ready Readers offers a great antidote to the national crisis in reading proficiency.

Ready Readers aims to improve students’ higher-order reading skills and build the capacity of community educators to deliver high-quality learning experiences that support literacy development in early elementary students. Our ultimate goal is for students to develop a positive association with reading that drives their learning and helps them improve academically; we want students to develop a deep joy and genuine love of reading.

Fortunately, the evidence indicates that through Ready Readers they are.