Showing posts with label oral reading. Show all posts
Showing posts with label oral reading. Show all posts

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Round Robin by Any Other Name... Oral Reading for Older Readers

I am seeking your advice based on the email correspondence below that I have had with my principal.  She noted that I was practicing “round robin reading” on a classroom observation.  Upon asking her to remove it (since it was not what I was doing), I realized that she doesn’t entirely understand what that practice looks like.  I gather from her response that she is only interested in the teacher modeling expert reading and students not reading aloud in the classroom at all.  I personally believe that there is a place in the classroom for students to read aloud. 

During the lesson we are speaking of I read aloud an excerpt of Frederick Douglass’s autobiography.  I chunked the reading with questions and discussion in between parts.  I did ask for volunteers to read some parts and several students did volunteer.  I teach gifted language arts.  The majority of my students are proficient in reading and enjoy reading aloud.  I never force them to read aloud though.

If you would please, could you read the correspondence below and let me know your thoughts about students reading aloud in the classroom.



I agree that oral reading has a place, and perhaps an important place in classrooms even at Middle School. 

Oral reading fluency is important because of the role it plays in reading comprehension. With primary grade readers (grade 2), about 70% of the variation in reading comprehension is due to variance in fluency. That is, if we could take away the variation in fluency by bringing those with lower fluency up to the same levels as the most fluent readers, 70% of the differences in reading comprehension would go away. That’s why studies show that teaching oral fluency effectively improves reading comprehension (NICHD, 2002).

However, the importance of fluency diminishes over time. This isn’t because fluency stops mattering, but that more and more students reach the needed levels of fluency. There is a ceiling on fluency—generally someone who can read 125 wcpm is a better reader than someone who reads at 100 wcpm. However, by the time you get to 150-175wcpm it is difficult to do any better than that (we can only speak so fast), and improving on that doesn’t seem to help. What that means is that by 8th grade, oral reading fluency only explains about 25% of the variance in reading comprehension. That is obviously a much lower payoff than for younger kids, and yet, it is 25%—which is a big deal. 

I would definitely have kids practicing oral reading in the middle school grades, at least if they were below the grade levels norms in fluency because I want them to get that comprehension pay off. The problem in your case is that you indicate these to be advanced readers. There is a very real chance that they can already read fluently, and more practice probably would not benefit them (though I would test them rather than asserting that). One reason for engaging good readers in oral reading is to meet the special demands of historical texts like the one you were working with or Shakespeare. The reason for that is that the language patterns can be so complex and archaic that reading the material aloud can aid in figuring it out (I do that myself). But it doesn’t sound like your lesson was very strategic in that regard.

We do know how to teach oral reading fluency successfully. What works? The various meta-analyses show oral reading practice with challenging text (e.g., frustration level), with feedback (e.g., from a teacher, parent, volunteer, other students, computers), and with rereading improves fluency and comprehension. There are now a couple of studies indicating that it is possible to do this with silent reading too, but those focused on computer-delivered instruction that allowed monitored in a way teachers could do on their own. There are lots of effective methods (e.g., paired reading, repeated reading, echo reading, neurological impress, Radio Reading) as well as various programs that work (e.g., Read Naturally). Modeling helps, such as having someone show the student what oral reading should sound like—which wouldn’t make much sense in your case, or, reading a short portion of the text to the student, and then having then trying to read it themselves—which might make sense, though your description makes me doubt it. In some studies, modeling was a planned part of the intervention, but the way I've usually used it is when a student has attempted a read unsuccessfully... I would then read a portion and have have him/her try again. That almost always helps.

Round robin reading refers to one student reading while everyone else listens. Which is what your letter describes. It is not that the oral reading practice round robin provides is so bad, but that there is so little practice in it. Round robin is terribly inefficient. The person who is learning during round robin is the reader—which means 25 other kids are sitting there waiting for their turn. In a middle school in which classes might last only for 45 minutes or 50 minutes, this would be a terrible waste of time, especially if they were already good readers. While I encourage, and even require, oral reading instruction in the middle school, I would never countenance round robin. If you have your students engaged in an activity like paired reading, students would get much more reading time for the same amount of class time. However, if the point was trying to make sense of the text, I would encourage you to work with silent reading—including silent reading of short parts as you describe.

If your students can’t read 8th grade material at 150-175wcpm making it sound like English, then it is legitimate to engage them in oral reading instruction. If one student is reading, and everyone else is listening, then we’re not on the same page. If multiple kids are engaged in the process (in echo reading, everyone reads at the same time; in paired reading, kids take turns). Activities like Reader’s Theatre can be okay, but they should be used no more than occasionally because in some ways it is like round robin—kids wait around too much. 

Instead of you doing the reading as in this lesson, I’d encourage you to have the students try to read it silently. If they have difficulty making sense of it, I would definitely show them how to use oral reading (or whisper reading) as a tool to make sense of those complicated 19th century sentences. Sorry, in this one, I agree with the principal.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Should We Read to High School Students?

Should high school English teachers read aloud to their students or play audio recordings to them?

Over the past several years, this practice has insinuated itself, Justin Bieber-like, into our consciousness. It seems to be showing up everywhere and it can be very annoying.

Reading aloud to older students definitely has a place, and yet it depends upon the purpose. I know many teachers use it like a crutch, reading to kids rather than requiring them to do their own reading. It is easier that way, of course, but it doesn’t accomplish some major instructional purposes.

Thus, if the purpose is to ensure that students know Poe’s story, “The Cask of Amontillado,” as a cultural touchstone (“ooh, that’s the one where the guy gets bricked up in the wall”), then reading it to the kids should accomplish that. Or, you could just show an old Vincent Price movie.

The problem, however, is that English teachers need to teach students to read that kind of text themselves, and make sense of it. The hope is that if students build the ability to read and interpret such texts that they will be able to do so later in college and in the workplace (though it would be a pretty strange workplace that wants you to interpret dramatic irony in an account of a homicide).

The problem is that students won’t build that ability from being read to. They need to engage the texts themselves.

But, just because I think the practice is misused by teachers, that doesn’t mean it should be banned. What are some good purposes for oral reading in secondary English?

Here are a few:
1.    Teacher reading (or the use of audio recordings) can provide a model of what a text should sound like. Thus, if my students were still building oral fluency, I might have them listen to a portion of the text, and then try to make it sound the same way themselves. Such modeling can play a useful role in fluency practice, even with older students.
2.    There are times when the point is simply to convey information. Oral sharing of a text can be a practical way to accomplish that.
3.    We are responsible for building students’ oral language as well as written. It can be very useful to listen to the sound of the language for a particular text. Eudora Welty wrote about how important reading aloud was for her in learning to write and in appreciating the texts of others. Occasionally demonstrating this power to kids can be a great idea (though she engaged in it herself—and your kids should, too).
4.    Sometimes we have to balance efficiency with our instructional purposes. Teachers sometimes use their oral reading to speed things along, to focus attention or motivation, and to make a lesson fit the schedule. For example, a teacher may have the students reading and discussing a text for the first 40 minutes of class, but is not getting as far as she hoped. Consequently, she reads the next section of the text to everyone to complete the chapter before the bell rings. Or, in another case, the teacher reads the first 2-3 pages of a story to the students to set the stage, and then turns the rest of the reading over to them.

     Nothing wrong with those practices if they don’t displace too much student reading. Unfortunately, in my experience, such reading tends to be used because the kids are finding the text to be difficult or don’t want to read it.

     Last week, I was teaching a high school English class myself. I had the students read an essay, and was questioning them—and not getting very far, I must admit. At some point, I asked one young man a question about what the author said, and he gave a dopey answer. It was evident he hadn’t actually done the reading. He either didn’t read it or he read it badly. It was tempting to just stop there and read the essay to them to move things along, but instead I said, “You guys didn’t get it. Read it again.” It was amazing how the tenor of the class changed at that point, and in retrospect I’m sure glad I didn’t read it to them.

      Oral sharing and video and audio presentations have their place in the high school English curriculum. But it is a small place, so teachers need to be honest with themselves as to why they are using it. I think one way to protect against the weak uses of it would be to simply set an arbitrary percentage of English class that will be devoted to student reading (perhaps 40% or 50%--the teacher might decide that if there are 250 minutes of class time per week, then students should spend 100 minutes per week reading—not discussing, not listening to others read, not writing, not waiting, just reading stories, poems, essays, literary nonfiction, etc.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Do You Want Your Husband to Remember Your Birthday or Anniversary?

            Let’s be honest. Any woman (or man, for that matter) wants their significant other to be involved enough that they remember both of these dates. Remember my birthday, but forget the day that we linked ourselves together for eternity, and you’re in obvious trouble. Recall the date we connected, but not my special day (all by myself) and I wonder if you think of me only in connection to you. Problem!

            Your spouse wants to know that he/she is important to you and not having a premature Alzheimer’s attack when it comes to both of these dates is a real plus.

            Easy question. Easy answer. Okay, try this one…

            Is oral or silent reading more important in middle school?

            We live in a time when silent reading ability will probably buy you more than oral reading skills. There definitely are radio and television announcers who have to read scripts well, but most of us don’t have those duties.

            However, that doesn’t mean oral reading is without value—especially for kids who are 11-, 12-, or 13-years-old.

            Oral reading has some small value as an outcome on its own, but in school-age kids it has its greatest value as a teaching tool. While it is true that oral reading fluency matters much more when you are 7 than when you are 11, it still matters a lot. 

           Oral reading proficiency explains more than 80% of the variation in the reading comprehension of second-graders. What that means is that if you could make all 7-year-olds equal in oral reading fluency (recognizing equal numbers of words, reading with similar speed, pausing equally appropriately), then you would do away with 80% of the differences in comprehension.

            Phony choice: If I had to choose—and I do not—I would spend more time on fluency instruction in second grade than on vocabulary instruction—because the learning payoff is bigger.

            The amount of reading comprehension variance explainable by oral fluency falls to about 25% by the time the average student is in eighth grade. To me that justifies fluency instruction, though I recognize the payoff is smaller. (What self-respecting secondary teacher wouldn’t gladly do away with 25% of the reading variation in their students?)

            Phony choice (again): If I had to choose—and I still do not have to make such a choice in real classrooms—I would spend more time on vocabulary instruction in 7th grade than on fluency—because the learning payoff should be bigger.

            What happens is that as children progress up the grades, more and more of them read at ceiling levels of fluency. Few third-graders can read 175 words correct per minute with proper pausing and prosody. But those numbers increase each year, meaning that more and more students have sufficient levels of fluency to allow them to accomplish the highest levels of comprehension. But, once those ceiling levels of fluency are reached, then to accomplish the highest levels of comprehension will require other kinds of gains (such as in vocabulary).

            I would definitely include oral reading practice in my secondary classes—at least for any students not reading at about 150-175 words correct per minute (and, yes, it has to sound like English—none of this “read as fast as you can” baloney). 

            That doesn’t mean that my students would do a lot of round robin turn taking. No, I’d follow the research: we’d engage in paired reading and echo reading with repetition and feedback. Our purpose would be to practice the reading of demanding texts (texts which the students can’t already read well), until we could read them at high levels of proficiency.

            But just because I would provide students with that kind of practice, does not mean that I don’t understand the value of silent reading. I would also devote substantial class time to engaging students in the silent reading of texts that have rich content and language. I would engage students in discussions and debates about the content of those texts, and I would require that students write about the ideas in such texts (e.g., summarizing them, analyzing them, and synthesizing information from that and other texts).

            Our responsibility is to make students effective readers. There are many things that go into that outcome: students need to develop rich vocabularies, they need to know how to parse sentences so that they can be interpreted well, they need to know how to operate on texts that they don’t understand just from reading, and they need to know how to reason and think about the kinds of information that they will meet in text.

            Thus, when it comes to oral and silent reading, I’m unwilling to pick one over the other. It is a foolish choice that confuses outcomes and inputs. There is no question that our goal is to develop readers who can read a text with a depth of understanding. But practice, both oral and silent, contributes to the accomplishment of that goal so only a very foolish teacher would require one and not the other.

            By the way, how many dozens of roses must you send if you do forget your anniversary? No, reason… I’m just asking.