By Bethany Kinder
The annual Read Aloud Conference brings chapter representatives together from all across West Virginia and gives them opportunities to share challenges, success stories and reader experiences from their counties. Here are a few ideas shared at this year’s conference from readers around the state. Perhaps one will inspire you!
A Cherished Note
Lesley McCullough McCallister of Kanawha County found that reading to a combined class of 23 second graders at Mary C. Snow Elementary was a rewarding experience for her and one that had a dramatic impact on her students, one in particular. Lesley’s children attend a different school but she already reads to them and wanted to reach out to another school in the community. By the end of the school year, she witnessed students who were once unsettled become attentive listeners. Lesley felt that it was a “privilege to come into the classroom each week” and wanted to thank the students for letting her share reading with them. She gave each student a stuffed “Pete the Cat,” the featured character in their favorite books—some of which she read to the students more than once based on their requests. She also included a thank you note to each student expressing her gratitude for a great year and also encouraging the students to continue reading throughout the summer. (She noted Pete the Cat loved to read.) The children were delighted with their gifts but the note struck a particular chord with one child.
A young boy in Lesley’s class approached her with the note he had received. “I will cherish this always,” he said. “This is my most prized possession.” Lesley noted that students may have never received individual notes of appreciation. This simple personal touch reaches students beyond the interaction volunteers have while reading and leaves a lasting impression on the students. Lesley said it well, “sometimes you don’t realize you are reaching them, but you are.”
Casey Willson of Berkeley County made that same connection by creating personalized bookmarks which he distributed to each student in the class he read to at the end of the school year. Casey and Ms. Edwards, the classroom teacher, were featured in group photos on the bookmarks along with an encouraging message to the students to keep reading through summer. The bookmarks are useful and serve as a reminder of their experience with the reader.
Readers Find Creative Ways to Continue Connection When Out of Town
Sometimes readers are unable to make their scheduled classroom time. Bob Fleenor (Berkeley County) and Betsy Howard (Fayette County) used technology to avoid missing a visit with their respective classes. Working in advance with the teachers in those classes, they arranged to use Skype or FaceTime to read to the kids. Other readers have sent postcards to their classes to let them know they miss them. Each strategy reinforces the importance of the read aloud experience to the reader as well as the students.
Bringing the Book to Life
Mary Boyd is a busy woman! She is a pediatrician, President of the Randolph County Read Aloud Chapter and a regular Read Aloud volunteer. Most of her classroom visits and readings do not include props, but last year she treated the class to one visit with a more dramatic flair. Mary brought a special guest, one of her medical students, Will, to her regular class of kindergarten students. Will dressed as a shark and Mary dressed as a fisherman as they read The Rainbow Fish and a book about sea turtles. The students were given a real-life commercial for reading and had a lot of fun seeing the books come to life.
Though it is not required of volunteer readers to go the extra mile with personal touches like books, notes, Skyping and props, these simple but creative ideas are great ways to impact students not just through summer, but for a lifetime.
Berkeley County Chapter Board Member and Volunteer Reader Casey Willson poses with his class after a successful year!