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Don’t Use Round Robin and Popcorn Reading

Don't Use Round Robin Reading Instruction

Don’t Use Round Robin Reading

Every day in thousands of classrooms, students are called upon to  read out loud. Some teachers use round robin reading, in which every student 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 who use round robin or popcorn reading stress the importance of reading out loud. They frequently bolster their support of these instructional practices with these claims:

  1. Reading out loud builds comprehension because listening comprehension is generally at a higher level than silent reading comprehension.
  2. Reading out loud is important fluency and decoding practice.
  3. Reading out loud also helps the teacher formatively assess student pronunciation, attention to punctuation, projection, modulation, and inflection.
  4. Reading out loud holds students accountable for reading along with the class, unlike silent reading.

    Popcorn Reading is Poor Instructional Practice

    Don’t Use Popcorn Reading

  5. Reading out loud is a necessary social skill. Students need to be prepared for public speaking. Adults will be called upon to read in front of audiences in meetings, business, church, etc.
  6. Reading out loud can be used to address Common Core Speaking and Listening Standards.
  7. 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.
  8. Reading out loud is as American as apple pie. Your teachers did it and look how well you turned out!

But, upon closer analysis, round robin and popcorn reading are not effective means of reading instruction. Instead, having students read out loud with these strategies can actually be counterproductive.

First of all, let’s establish a few caveats regarding reading out loud:

  • For beginning readers, reading out loud an listening to reading are essential reading practices. This article nicely summarizes the importance of read alouds for early readers.
  • In guided reading settings, student reading out loud is necessary for the teacher to complete running records and inform instruction.
  • When allotted practice time and assistance, reading out loud in class plays, readers theater, etc. can be positive learning experiences.
  • My criticisms regarding round robin and popcorn reading refer to individual, not choral reading. Choral reading certainly has its place in reading instruction.
  • Individual read alouds in whole class fluency practice can certainly be helpful. The late Dr. John Shefelbine, a mentor of mine at the California State University, Sacramento, advocated non-choral, individual reading out loud as a guided reading group or even as a whole class. In this approach, students read in “six-inch” voices at their own reading paces as the teacher walks the table or room, listening in and completing 30 second fluency timings.
  • Reading one’s own writing out loud is useful. “Reading aloud helps you cultivate your internal listening skills, which in turn assists you in discovering your unique writing voice.” Reading one’s own writing out loud “sharpens your ear so that you are able to detect authentic dialogue and flowing narrative” and “is the best barometer to tell if your writing is active, flows, has good movement and is working. If you stumble over your own words, you can trust that something needs to be edited or changed” (Shakthawatt). Hearing one’s own words will inform the writer about sentence variety, punctuation, and word choice.
  • In sum, reading out loud is essential in some instructional contexts, but not in round robin or popcorn style practice.

However, the following criticisms of round robin reading and popcorn reading apply to all age levels and levels of reading. Plus, teachers have such effective alternatives:

  1. Reading out loud builds comprehension because listening comprehension is generally at a higher level than silent reading comprehensionThis is certainly true; however, the level of reading comprehension significantly increases when listening to good reading, not poor reading. You, the teacher, are the best reader in the class. Teachers, audio files or CDs, and videos provide much better modeled reading than jumping from one student to the next, interrupting the flow of the reading. Reading comprehension depends upon the connection of ideas. Imagine watching a twenty-two minute episode of your favorite sitcom with thirty different five-second commercials interrupting the show. Comprehension would obviously decrease. Plus, you probably remember from your own student experience with round robin reading that students tend to skip ahead to silently practice their reading section, rather than listening to the student currently reading. 
  2. Reading out loud is important fluency and decoding practice. Except as noted above in my caveats, round robin and popcorn reading provide minimal fluency and decoding practice. With either method, in a class of 30 students each student will only receive 30 seconds of individual practice in a 15-minute reading. Plus, for fluent readers the non-fluent readers may reinforce poor reading habits, such as inattention to punctuation; for non-fluent readers, the fluent readers read at rates which the struggling readers cannot match. Furthermore, any decoding practice is certainly adhoc and text-dependent. Students need multiple examples, not isolated corrections, to improve decoding. Plus, what may be one child’s decoding need, is not necessarily that of others in the class. So much better to diagnostically assess the individual phonics strengths and deficits and teach to the results of the assessment in small group and individualized instruction with phonics workshops and with decodable readers, such as my Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. See below for FREE diagnostic assessments.
  3. Reading out loud also helps the teacher formatively assess student pronunciation, attention to punctuation, projection, modulation, and inflection. Given, but how inefficient! For example, in my Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program, students practice reading out loud along with YouTube modeled readings at their individual challenge levels. Teachers can easily formatively assess and teach these reading skills as they walk the room.
  4. Reading out loud holds students accountable for reading along with the class, unlike silent reading. As previously mentioned with respect to round robin reading, students tend to be more concerned with their own reading, rather than that of other students. Admittedly, popcorn reading does tend to force most students to monitor where students are reading (except for Johnny who always loses his place), but knowing where another student is reading is certainly not necessarily reading for meaning.
  5. Reading out loud is a necessary social skill. Students need to be prepared for public speaking. Adults will be called upon to read in front of audiences in meetings, business, church, etc. While I think this is over-stated, I will re-iterate that learning to read out loud well is important, but not necessarily for the purpose of public speaking.
  6. Reading out loud can be used to address Common Core Speaking and Listening StandardsThis is only incidentally true; read the Standards carefully and the explicit examples provided as to how to address them.
  7. 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. Some students do ask for round robin or popcorn reading; some because they enjoy the individual attention of reading out loud; others because (except for their individual turn) round robin or popcorn are passive instructional practices, requiring minimal student effort and accountability. Ask any group of students whether they want to be called on to read in front of their peers. I do so on the first day of school each year. A few students (usually the fluent readers) raise their hand to signal “Yes”; the vast majority do not want to read publicly. 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. My take is that round robin and popcorn reading actually traumatize some students and adversely affect their desire to read in school and thereafter. 
  8. Reading out loud is as American as apple pie. Your teachers did it and look how well you turned out! Yes, round robin and popcorn reading are long-established instructional practices, but so was making a child stand in a corner while wearing a dunce cap. We know better now. Yes, many of your colleagues still employ round robin and popcorn reading. Some of them were taught to do so in reading methods classes as part of their teaching credential programs. To be honest, many of you who are reading this article have not considered alternative instructional strategies. That’s okay, but it’s time to do so. Re-read some of the alternative strategies I suggested above and explore more. Believe me, round robin and popcorn reading are not the only ways to get through and teach a story.

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Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

Pennington Publishing provides two reading intervention program options for ages eight–adult. The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is a full-year, 55 minutes per day program which includes both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). The word recognition components feature the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spelling Independent Practice 4. Heart Words Independent Practice 5. The Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables 1ith comprehension and word fluency practice for older readers. The program also includes sound boxes and personal sound walls for weekly review.  The language comprehension components feature comprehensive vocabulary, reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling, writing and syntax, syllabication, reading strategies, and game card lessons, worksheets, and activities. Word Recognition × Language Comprehension = Skillful Reading: The Simple View of Reading and the National Reading Panel Big 5.

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