“The soul is contained in the human voice.” −Jorge Luís Borges
This is one of the most powerful arguments for reading aloud to your students. It is the opening quote in The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction, by Megan Cox Gurdon.
Your students need to hear your voice. They need to hear your soul. Not a recording, not a video. You. Your voice, using masterfully crafted words by gifted authors, is what your students need. They need live interaction with someone that cares about them, someone who acknowledges their subtle gestures, responds to their moods, and replies to their spoken and unspoken questions.
Borges’ quote echos a line from The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho (which is based on a short story by Borges): “I don’t know why these things have to be transmitted by word of mouth, he thought… He had only one explanation for this fact: things have to be transmitted this way because they are made up from pure life, and this kind of life cannot be captured in pictures or words.”
Do students need comprehensible input in order to acquire language? Of course, but more than comprehensible language is required. Gurdon quotes Morten Christiansen, of the Cornell University Cognitive Neuroscience Lab: “If hearing language was all that mattered, children could be set in front of a television or radio to learn their native tongue (p. 71).” Your students need interaction with a live teacher in order to process and acquire language, not in the form of canned questions and answers, but by participating emotionally in the process of communication. Reading aloud does this.
“One of the reasons kids don’t learn from media, from technology, is that there’s not contingency, the spontaneous, fluid adaptation to what a child seems to be understanding or failing to understand.” (p. 75)
You need not be a Luddite to recognize the wisdom in this, that we are getting out of balance with our infatuation with technology.
Start reading aloud to your students.