When I was younger and started secondary school (in Yorkshire, where I grew up) it was revealed by my mother at the first parent-teacher evening that she still read out loud to me before bedtime. I remember the books. I remember their covers held in my mum’s hands and her voice reading. And when I was reading alone: Theseus and the Minotaur (I read this over and over, sometimes in the car sitting on our drive after a trip to the supermarket), Lemony Snicket, Harry Potter (also a car read), I would hear my mum’s voice as the voice of my internal reader.
This act of being read to saw me through secondary school. When I was studying for my A-Levels my teacher used to read passages at length to the class before we would collectively analyse these. I remember those moments as rich in learning and new thoughts, torn between flurries of desperate note-taking and repeatedly shoving my hand in the air to contribute. Reading alone at home the book was an object to be worked through, gleaned from, analysed, understood. When our teacher read to us, words would rise to the surface of the book; motifs, structures and metaphors would become opaque; the page would become a molten form that I had to re-shape into my interpretation.
I still think of this in my teaching practice. I always read at length to my students–poetry, theory, philosophy, fiction. I don’t let the fear that they are spending thousands of pounds to be in my classroom come in the way of my belief that reading out loud collectivises our learning experience, puts us in a room, and makes texts rich, shared and embodied forms.