“Storytime with Wil”: A Read-Aloud for Grown-Ups

once-upon-a-time-whitley-mdThere’s no shortage of anecdata and evidence that reading out loud to children is incredibly important to developing language skills, and a love of reading. Reading out loud can help improve comprehension, vocabulary, and information processing skills. There are many resources to help adults read aloud to children, or help connect other readers with children, or help children read out loud to an audience of their own.

Do grown-ups benefit, too?

Some may feel it juvenile, but I enjoy listening to things. I derive a lot of pleasure from listening to music, for instance. Podcasts and radio programs are some of my favorite ways to absorb nonfiction text. I don’t listen to audiobooks, but I know many adults who do. Why wouldn’t grown-ups also benefit from read-alouds?

My district took the night off from our usual Twitter chat, so when I was dorking around Twitter at 9pm EST with nothing else going on, I saw a link to actor Wil Wheaton‘s Twitch channel, where he was doing a read-aloud of a Choose Your Own Adventure book. (This is apparently a regularly scheduled event.) So, I clicked.

I don’t often visit Twitch, but it’s a social platform for people to watch videos, particularly snow-white-and-the-seven-dwarfs-aida-hiin the gaming community. (It makes sense if you spent hours of childhood waiting for your turn on the Nintendo, then realized that you like watching other people play almost as much as you enjoy playing yourself.) So, it’s an interesting platform for a read-aloud. But Mr. Wheaton has gamified the experience: when the time comes in the story for the reader to make a choice, observers in the chat make their opinion known about which choice they want to make. (The first few choices I watched were close to unanimous, but when it came too close and fast to call, a chatbot helped tally votes.)

However, there were over five hundred (!!!) folks watching the entire time I was participating. (Can you imagine being a teacher reading out loud to over five hundred kids? Yikes.) Still, that is a lot. There was no way you could reasonably expect to be singled out for attention. But, fellowship could be built between the observers, because the chat function (largely ignored by Mr. Wheaton as he read out passages between choices) was also a backchannel. People frequently reacted to Mr. Wheaton and/or the text, then reacted to one another.

I was impressed with (and enjoyed) the experience. Mr. Wheaton, as an actor, reads with gumption, something that would probably make former costar LeVar Burton proud. The community around the activity was energetic but without some of the negative interactions that can color an online experience. Not all five hundred-some viewers were chatting simultaneously, which probably would have been insane. But many were cracking jokes and so on. It was definitely more geared towards adults than for kids (I’d rate it PG-13 with an extra sprinkle of f-bombs).

While our principal reasons for reading aloud to children is to strengthen their literacy, let
us not forget that it can be fun and community-building as well.

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