Reading and writing are more valued in our school tradition than public speaking. In class, is listening to a reading aloud, done by a student or a teacher, a boring and old-fashioned activity?
It has not always been so: in the past, orality was the main register of scholarly, political and academic communication. Alberto Manguel recalls that Saint Augustine, in the IVe century, found it strange that Saint Ambrose would isolate himself in his cell to read alone, in silence, concentrating on the text. Reading aloud and in groups was the norm at the time. This is always the case in the Christian liturgy.
Our time is very different from that of Saint Augustine. The literacy rate is high in our Western societies, and information is mainly recorded in writing, fixed on a material support (paper, screen) which can be easily transmitted.
But that doesn't take away from the importance of speaking and listening in academic communication and learning. The voice is not only an instrument for conversing and the written text can also help us to better use orality.
Identify the difficulties
When we talk about pedagogy and reading aloud, we think of dictation. If the exercise, for many, has gone out of fashion, it still arouses debate, (very lively in France).
But, with this activity, the text is read aloud only to be written, it is not a question of oral communication in its own right. Let's look at other ways to benefit from reading and listening to it in the classroom.
Orality has a number of unique discursive characteristics (its linguistic signs follow one another and are perceived in simultaneous interaction in time and space between the sender and the receiver), which makes it an ideal means of everyday communication. .
It refers to capacities innate to our human species and manifests itself in two areas. On the one hand, the organs of phonation (lungs, larynx, vocal cords, mouth, etc.) and of hearing (ear). On the other hand, our mental ability to distinguish linguistic sounds and to understand them, giving them meaning. These two aspects develop as we grow.
As a classroom activity, reading aloud should be appropriate for each student's level of development. The texts must also be appropriate to achieve the proposed objectives. Reading aloud allows us identify any learning difficulties in the child, but it also fulfills other formative functions.
Between 3 and 5 years, it is the logographic stage : children may not be able to decode letters and words, but they can "read" pictures.
At this age, the child sees himself as the center of his world. Reading aloud thus becomes an extension of one's own desire for expression. Large format books (picture book) and handling materials (soft covers, pop-ups) are ideal for this purpose.
In primary school, the child begins to associate the words he already knows how to say with their calligraphic representation. At this point, reading aloud connects the two "worlds" that the child begins to explore: oral and written. The use of picture books is maintained during the first cycle and the readings gradually become more complex. Over time, images are giving way to letters, but they are still a very powerful resource due to their visual character and immediate impact.
This is also when playful and interactive, as well as instructive, strategies for encourage reading come into play. Tales, for example, are very useful for working on different skills. Dramatization, gestures, inflection of the voice… The written text takes on its full dimension when it becomes oral and public. The whole class, or even the whole school, can be part of the same community of readers-spectators.
Reading as a social activity
It is obvious that reading aloud is a challenge for all students. It is a particularly complex challenge for those with speech or reading difficulties. These children are aware that there is a "barrier" that they find it difficult to overcome in communicating with others. This frustration must be managed in class with empathy. Reading with errors can be used to play them down in front of the whole class.
In adolescence, literary education is oriented towards understanding literary language and learning the history of authors and works. But any written text has a phonic dimension. This makes it possible to work on intonation and prosody (pauses, rhythms), or to link spelling to pronunciation. In addition, there are texts relating exclusively to oral communication (e.g.: radio shows, debates, talk-shows…) which can be introduced in class within the framework of activities based on real communication situations. This opens up a wide range of learning opportunities.
Thus, any text can be valuable material, because we are interested in encouraging reading aloud as an activity in itself. And this reveals to the learner the similarities and differences between orality and writing, in texts which are essentially oral and which must be produced in this register.
Reading cannot be confined to the home, to the classroom or libraries. If we exclude the oral dimension of reading, we not only lose what was its first manifestation in history. We also exclude this dimension which makes it a social activity.
The ideal texts for reading aloud are those that have a dramatic aspect: plays, epic poetry or predominantly action-oriented stories. But any text can be played in public. The word and the book are therefore destined to meet. So why not take this opportunity?