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Read it aloud to better understand the meaning of the words

      In his commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 38 Verse 1, the late Benedictine monk from Assumption Abbey in North Dakota, Terrence Kardong, wrote, “In our own day when schools no longer teach public reading … ”

      I don’t know how accurate that statement is, but I can testify that students read aloud in my classroom every day. However, hearing the quality of student reading, I sympathize with Kardong’s statement.

      Reading ability has always varied from person to person; nothing new there. What is of interest to me is the number of students who struggle reading aloud. Admittedly, introverts may fear reading aloud, thus hampering the quality of the reading, but that is not always the case. I have called upon many introverted students to read aloud, and they have read well.

      Another fact of interest to me is that my best readers are nearly all girls. Very, very few boys match the caliber of my female students. I have no idea why that is the case, but in my experience it is true.

      It’s not that my students can’t pronounce the words; for the most part, they can. It’s that they don’t comprehend what they are reading.

      Punctuation? They choose to ignore it. Commas and periods are a mystery to most. Parentheses are ignored and quotation marks evoke no change of inflection in voice.

      Hence, my insistence upon reading aloud in class. If nothing else, they will learn better reading skills. Now, what does all this have to do with anything?

      We were scheduled to return to school on March 30, then after Easter. Now, we have learned that we not returning at all for this school year.

      So our school is engaged in “eLearning.” I assign reading to my students, questions to be answered and the students fire back their answers to me on Google Classroom.

      But I’m not there to hear them read. I find that troubling. True, Zoom is available. Yet, I find that having a student read over Zoom is like talking to someone who stands 50 feet away from you inside a cave; yes, the person can hear you, but the acoustics are so bad that long conversations are wearisome. Same goes for Zoom.

      Furthermore, we learn the faith by hearing it proclaimed. And with regard to Scripture, that proclamation is best transmitted by reading it aloud. By doing so, we hear the Word. “Thus faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17), says St. Paul.

      Monks know this. Now before you get all bent out of shape and shout at the paper, “But I’m not a monk!” hear me out. I know you’re not a monk. Neither am I. But we can learn something from them: Scripture is something to be gnawed on, chewed up and ground down before swallowing. And the method of achieving that metaphor with regard to Scripture is to read aloud and to read slowly.

      Now, back to my students who are stranded at home, perched before a computer screen, wrapped in their favorite blanket, hair mussed and eyes bleary from having just rolled out of bed. I’ve assigned them Daniel 3:1-24,46-51,91-100 to read. Yes, the Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego story.

      This story is full of tough-sounding words (like the names of those three guys). In my written assignment to the students, I tried to really punch the story: “Three guys get tied up and thrown into a raging inferno! OMG!!”

      What are the odds they’re going to 1) read that story slowly, 2) read that story aloud (even though I asked them to), and 3) pay close attention to what they’re reading?

      See why I’m concerned?

      On the other hand, the Holy Spirit is at work in the students. What sayeth Scripture? “Wisdom … penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity. For she is the breath of the might of God.” (Wisdom 7:24-25)

      This scourge shall pass, people.


      Deacon Mark Plaiss teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Ill. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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