Every day in thousands of classrooms, students are called upon to read out loud. Some teachers use round robin reading, in which every students takes a turn reading a section. Other teachers use popcorn reading, in which students call upon each other to read. For many teachers, these strategies are the primary means of working through a reading text with students.
Teachers claim that having students read out loud is important fluency and decoding practice. Teachers argue that having students read out loud holds students accountable for reading along with the class, unlike silent reading. Reading out loud builds comprehension because listening comprehension is generally at a higher level than silent reading comprehension. Reading out loud also helps the teacher formatively assess student pronunciation, attention to punctuation, and inflection. Student love to read out loud and much prefer reading a story out loud together as a class than reading the story silently and independently. Having students read out loud is as American as apple pie.
But, upon closer analysis, round robin and popcorn reading are not effective means of reading instruction. Instead, having students read out loud can actually be counterproductive.
First of all, reading out loud as a class is not good fluency practice. Effective fluency practice is leveled according to the instructional level of the student. The Read Naturally® fluency program uses a Brief Oral Screener to assess the fluency level of each student. Reading a class novel or textbook may or may not be at the instructional level for the majority of your students.
Good fluency practice uses modeled readings. Students are not the best model readers in the class. Poor student readers reinforce poor reading skills such as inattention to punctuation, mispronunciation, and poor inflection. The more the teacher interrupts to correct student mistakes, the less fluency is practiced.
Good fluency practice requires lots of reading, including repeated readings. In any given reading, an individual student may read once or twice for a grand total of, say, one minute. Hardly enough practice to improve reading fluency.
Round robin and popcorn reading is poor decoding practice. Class novels and textbooks are not decodable reading text. Real literature is filled with sight words. Additionally, students have different diagnostic decoding deficiencies. Correcting one student’s mispronunciation of the /ch/ in chorus may only address the needs of one or two students. And correction is not effective practice. Students need multiple examples, not isolated corrections, to improve decoding. Nor does correction improve syllabication skills.
Having students read out loud decreases reading comprehension. Jumping from one student to the next interrupts the flow of the reading. Reading comprehension depends upon the connection of ideas. Imagine watching a twenty-two minute episode of “The Office” with thirty different five-second commercials interrupting the show. Comprehension would obviously decrease. In round robin reading, students frequently anticipate where they will begin reading and silently practice—thus losing comprehension.
Not all students enjoy reading out loud. For some, reading out loud is the single most-feared classroom activity. Poor readers lose self-esteem when required to read out loud. Peers can be heartless and cruel. Too often, teachers use round robin or popcorn reading to “catch” students who are inattentive, which further disrupts fluency and comprehension and only serves to humiliate students.
Instead of round robin and popcorn reading, why not use reading strategies that are appropriate to the teacher’s instructional objectives. For fluency development, use a differentiated fluency plan with diagnostically assessed leveled readings with teacher read alouds or modeled readings and repeated practice. Or at least use choral readings or echo readings to provide some modeling. For decoding practice, use phonics worksheets assigned according to the diagnostically assessed needs of students. For reading comprehension, use specific guided reading comprehension strategies with the best model reader, the teacher, as the coach. For formative reading assessment, protect the self-concept of the student and the accuracy of the assessment by reading one-on-one periodically.
Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activities, phonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.
Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.
Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.