Back in October, I told you about a volunteer opportunity at Boston College, where I work, in which I would take part in The Read Aloud Program. I promised to share the journey with you.

This week, many of the volunteers got together with the program administrator for a “check-in,” both to see how we’re doing with the program and to share our experiences with each other.  I now have a whole semester under my belt, so I eagerly signed up.

I don’t mean to suggest that I’m now an expert at reading to third-graders. No, quite the opposite. In fact, my name might as well be Jon Snow.* My whole “semester” consisted of four twenty minute sessions and no two have gone the same way. For instance, the book I chose in December turned out to be too short. We stared at each other for a few seconds, then they all wanted to know why I hadn’t picked a Christmas book.

Now, I’m smart enough to know that not everyone celebrates Christmas, and considering how many cultures are represented by the students in this particular class, I thought I was being culturally sensitive. Wrong.  Santa Claus, at least the American version, is not only inescapable, but he transcends ethnicity. Thankfully, their teacher was there to bail me out with a quick hand-off of another short book.

But I digress.


One of the first things I learned at our meeting this week was that those reading to the kindergarten kids seem to be having the most fun. They get to be more interactive with the little ones, dancing and singing songs and they had some great anecdotes to share. The rest of us were a wee bit jealous. I get it, though. The kindergarten teachers are hoping the tots will spend a lot of energy before nap time.  The teachers of the older students need more structure. We’re supposed to be reading. Not to mention, if we let their kids off the chain, there would be chaos that they would be left to reign in.

Most importantly, I learned many of the other volunteer readers were having some of the same issues in their classrooms. (By now, it would probably not surprise you to learn that all those who signed up for this “check-in” were first-time participants.)

In any case, I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one still having a tough time choosing a book. Of the four books I’ve read, the first was hands down the most popular. When I ask at the end of each reading session what kind of book they’d like me to choose for the next time, I get answers you might expect from eight to nine-year-old children. There are shouts of “books about space/boats/pokemon,” “books about {insert the name of their favorite animal},” etc. etc. But what I didn’t expect was “no chapter books!”

From what little guidance I’d gotten from the teacher, and the reading lists offered by the Boston Public School system, I would have assumed that third graders would be ready and eager for something a little more sophisticated; books that would require more attention and more imagination.


aleah levinson via weebly

If I envisioned reading parts of a single book each visit while the class sat in rapt silence until I called for questions or comments, these kids had something else in mind. They all want to look at the pictures.  It wasn’t until the “check-in” that I found out why.

As I previously mentioned, I’m reading to a group of children of wildly diverse ethnicities and backgrounds. What I did not know, was that for many of the kids in “my” class, this was their first year out of the “Structured English Immersion” program.**  Others are still part of the “SLIFE***” program. Though they’ve been deemed ready for “regular, general” education classes, the pictures continue to help them process what they’re hearing.

That was something of an “aha!” moment for me. I don’t have delusions that at twenty minutes, once a month, I’ll become an expert on any third graders by the end of the year, let alone this group, but having that little bit of information will be very helpful as we move forward. I’m more determined than ever to make my time with them memorable. They deserve it.

The class seems to like that I “do the voices” as I read and I do try to use my finger to underline the words as I’m reading them (which also helps me keep my place when I have to stop to answer questions.) I’m known to the class as “The Pomegranate Lady” and they whisper the name to each other when I walk through the door. They remember that first book I read to them and they are hopeful that we’ll recreate that experience. Me too.


I’ll be back at the end of May with my final thoughts on the year. Thanks for sharing the experience and for reading!

*Who knows nothing.

**Structured English Immersion or SEI – a methodology in which English language learners (ELLs) learn English through structured and sequential lessons. Specially developed for ELLs, these lessons are based, to a large degree, on the mainstream curricula. Massachusetts and California are the only two states in the country that use this particular program, although a similar one exists in Arizona.

***SLIFE – Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education – English language learners who have experienced interrupted education due to war, civil unrest, migration, or other factors; who have never had the opportunity to participate in any type of schooling before entering school in the United States; or who have experienced limited education in their home countries due to lack of resources or trained teachers, the type of schooling they participated in, or other circumstances.”