Read Aloud with Accountable Talk: Making the Invisible Visible

Consultants' Corner

178361272How do we teach our students the questioning, comprehension, thinking and reasoning strategies that proficient readers engage in naturally?  Read Aloud with Accountable Talk is a key instructional component that engages all these strategies. Last week, Michele Farah and I facilitated a Read Aloud with Accountable Talk workshop for K-5 classroom teachers and special educators working with students with IEPs.  This daily instructional component is part of a balanced literacy approach to an English Language Arts block throughout the elementary years, and many times this instructional strategy is employed in secondary grades as well.

The purpose of Read Aloud with Accountable Talk is to engage students in narrative or informational text that is read aloud while the teacher:

1. models the comprehension and thinking required to make sense of the text,

2. poses questions and predictions, and

3. creates, confirms, or updates theories about the text or an author.

115530971 (2)In essence, the teacher’s role during Read Aloud with Accountable talk is to make these “invisible” aspects of language and cognition, which are required for reading comprehension and rigorous thinking, “visible” so that students can practice them in their own reading.

In a gradual-release-of-responsibility instructional delivery framework, Read Aloud with Accountable Talk falls on the “I do” and “We do” end of the continuum for teaching reading comprehension strategies.  Whereas shared reading, guided reading, partnerships, book clubs, and independent reading shift the responsibility for comprehension of text to the student — the “You do” end of the continuum.  After teachers read aloud and model their own thinking and comprehension, students are asked to share their own thinking (i.e., practice the strategies modeled), while the teacher listens in, scaffolds, and provides feedback to students.

Teacher and student talk is “accountable” when it:

  • References an idea or information specifically from the text that is being read aloud
  • Builds on other ideas offered during the dialogue to create shared meaning
  • Includes rigorous thinking, such as comparing, analyzing, reasoning, or evaluating

Educators shared many of their “a-ha”s with Michele and I last week at the workshop, which I offer here as a helpful list of “Do”s and “Don’t”s for implementing Read Aloud with Accountable Talk:

Do This:

Not That:

  • Plan ahead by intentionally selecting the text to read aloud, stopping points for modeling thinking, prompts that will be used to start the student talk, and a clear expectation of what the talk should sound like at each student talking point
  • Grab a book on the go and wing it with any type of question



  • Create anchor charts or sentence starters with students to name comprehension strategies and  conversational moves that readers and talkers use regularly
  • Randomly question or prompt students without modeling thinking and offering scaffolds for students to enter into the conversation
  • I’ll tell you my idea, you offer ideas or information to build on a line of thinking… we build something greater than the sum of its parts
  •  I’ll tell you my idea, you tell me yours… OK, we’re done!
  • To the greatest extent possible, use text and resources that will be used again in other components of the ELA block, or on another day during Read Aloud with Accountable Talk
  • Use texts that are not discussed or used in Reader’s Workshop, Writer’s Workshop, or Word Study

Read Aloud with Accountable Talk is not intended to replace the important act of reading aloud to students for the purpose of enjoying literature or informational text.  It is however, an important instructional strategy that general and special educators can use to explicitly teach the language underpinnings of reading comprehension and rigorous thinking that lead to academic engagement and success.  Check out some of our Read Aloud with Accountable Talk resources in the Consultant’s Collection of the Oakland Schools literacy website. Just type “read aloud” in the title field to perform your search.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADiane Katakowski is a speech and language consultant in the Special Education unit at Oakland Schools. She supports educational speech-language pathologists and special educators in their ability to improve student achievement and engagement in order to close the achievement gap between students with and without IEPs.  She facilitates professional learning around communication, speech and language development, early literacy skill development, and setting goals, progress monitoring, and visually-displaying data to guide intervention for language and literacy skills.  Diane is also a member of Oakland Schools’ multi-disciplinary Response to Intervention – Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (RTI / MTSS) literacy team. 

Re-thinking Our Kids as Readers…

Consultants' Corner Research & Theory

imsis591-033Kids in schools today get tested, evaluated, assessed, analyzed, and then tested some more.   In this process, students often end up with a wide range of scores attached to their names, from MEAP scores to NWEA scores to grade level equivalency scores to recommended lexile levels for reading.  We may be, as the saying goes, “data rich and information poor.”  We have lots of statistics and other data, but we’re not really sure how to use it all.  This is particularly true when it comes to reading.  I often hear teachers describe their students as readers by assigning grade levels for their reading abilities, as in “she’s in the 9th grade but she reads at the fourth grade level.”  This grade level labeling, for lack of a better term, is especially common in our talk about young people who are not meeting the academic expectations placed on them at school.  Statements like, “half of my students are reading two grades below level,” are pretty common in my conversations with teachers concerned about their students’ reading skills.

So what did his “fourth grade reading level” score really mean, was it at all useful, and what was getting lost in the process of using this score to describe him as a reader?  The fourth grade reading level meant that on one particular day, he answered most of the multiple choice questions right about a text that a testing company like ETS or Pearson decided was something that most fourth graders should be able to read with little difficulty. When presented with questions about more complex texts, he probably began to get lots more questions wrong.  That is what his 4th grade level reading score meant.

Don’t get me wrong though – this score does have some use as a general screening tool.  A very low score on a generic reading test lets us know that we need to pay attention to how this student reads a wide range of different texts, and it lets us know that he likely needs additional support for reading.  It does NOT tell us, however, that he can’t read any text above a fourth grade level, and it does not tell us that he is incapable of thinking deeply about a wide range of texts.  It tells us only that he struggled with the texts on this test.  This is important to remember because not all texts, and not all reading activities, are the same. Thus, when properly motivated, and when armed with in-depth prior knowledge, this kid can likely read far above his assigned level.

I88748677 (1)s this important to know?  Of course it is, because if we can find ways to motivate him and build prior knowledge before reading, we can help him move far beyond his test score.  However, if we think he can’t read more advanced texts, we might never ask him to him read, or we might just give him low-level texts when we can find them.  We might never challenge him to use the resources he already has to become a better reader, and we might allow him to move into learned helplessness and believe that he doesn’t have the potential to read advanced texts well.

The big picture is that reading is a complex process… there are many factors involved in reading comprehension, and when we reduce a kids’s reading to one single score, we may be missing pieces of their reading puzzle.  So what’s the solution?  Some initial steps are outlined below:

  • Engage kids in conversations about reading and find out what their interests are.
  • Learn more about when, where, and what they read.  Most kids read more than their teachers might expect, but they don’t always consider it “reading,” especially if they are not reading school books or novels.
  • Talk about reading in your classroom and encourage your students to read outside of school for their own purposes.
  • In the classroom, rely more on diagnostic and formative assessments to learn about your students as readers.
  • Use metacognitive strategies (e.g. Talk the Text),  talk moves (e.g. “Tell me more…)” and Visible Thinking routines (e.g. “What makes you say that…”; to learn more about how your students think while they read.
  • Consider your students to be dynamic, changing readers instead of good or poor readers.  Challenge all of them by learning about their strengths and pushing them to get even better, no matter where they are starting.  If we believe they can make progress, hopefully they will too!
  • If you’re interested in learning more about these issues, the research articles below are great places to start!

Alvermann, D.E. (2001). Reading adolescents‘ reading identities: Looking back to see ahead. Journal of Adult and Adolescent Literacy 44: 676-690.

Dutro, E., Selland, M., & Bien, A (2013).  Revealing Writing, Concealing Writers:  High-  Stakes Assessment in an Urban Elementary Classroom Journal of Literacy Research 45(2):99

Franzak, J. (2006). Zoom: A review of the literature on marginalized adolescent readers, literacy theory, and policy implications. In B. M. Gordon & J. E. King (Eds.), Review of Educational Research (Vol. 76, pp. 209-248). Washington DC:    American Educational Research Association.

Moje, E.B., Overby, M., Tysvaer, N., & Morris, K. (2008). The complex world of adolescent literacy: Myths, motivations, and mysteries. Harvard Educational Review 78(1): 107-154.

O‘Brien, D. (2006). ―Struggling adolescents engagement in multimediating: Countering institutional construction of incompetence. In D.E. Alvermann, K.A.  Hinchman, D.A. Moore, S.F. Phelps, & D.R. Waff (Eds.), Reconceptualizing the Literacies in Adolescents’ Lives (pp. 147-160). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Stockdill, D.& Moje, E. B.  (2013).  Adolescents as readers of social studies:   Examining the relationship between youth’s everyday and social studies  literacies and learning.  Berkley Review of Education 4(1):  35-68.