Choral Reading: Good Idea or Not?

  • oral reading fluency
  • 08 June, 2024
  • 12 Comments

Teacher question:

I know you advocate fluency instruction. But what do you think of choral reading? I love to do that with my second graders, and they have a lot of fun with it. We usually follow Tim Rasinski’s advice and do choral reading with poetry. Do you think that satisfies the fluency teaching requirements?

Shanahan responds:

I must admit that I am not a big fan of choral reading, though to be fair this is not a research-based opinion. There simply are too few studies of choral reading on which to base a sound judgment.

First my objections and then a consideration of the research evidence.

My concern is pretty simple: in observing classrooms, which I have done a lot of over the years, I often notice that many kids don’t really participate. Oh, they may move their lips a bit behind the rest of the class, but they are not necessarily even looking at the words. I suspect that often they’re “reading” in the same way many people at a baseball game “sing” the National Anthem. They look like they are participating -- without really singing.

Fluency instruction – any instruction – only can pay off to the extent that the students engage in the process. I prefer approaches like paired reading (with teacher supervision) because each individual student needs to make the commitment to the text. If they don’t read a word, it doesn’t get read and there can be some instructional response.

With choral reading, in contrast, kids can hide out a bit which likely reduces their learning.

I went looking for studies of choral reading and there are a few, but none that look specifically at this part of the fluency regimen. In every study, they combine choral reading with repeated reading and then there is no way to sort out their effects. There are studies of repeated reading showing its effectiveness. None isolate choral reading.

For example, in a study with middle schoolers (Landreth & Chase, 2021), 10 minutes of daily oral reading fluency practice outdistanced a comparable amount of time devoted to independent reading. They had a 5-day routine with choral reading being one of the items in the routine (it also included repeated reading). In a study of intermediate grade students with learning problems, it was found that oral reading fluency instruction, which included choral reading, was successful in improving both fluency and comprehension (Mefford & Pettegrew, 1997).

There are some studies of “reading while listening.” Some of those might be choral reading studies. However, it is possible to read silently while listening or to focus more on trying to follow the teacher (the one who is being listened to) more than trying to stay with the group.

My concerns wouldn’t proscribe choral reading altogether. I suspect in some classrooms, choral reading might be used for a first run through of a text, to get the kids started. Once that has occurred it is set to the side for more individual work. I cannot say I have any problem with that; I bet that, at least with some text, that might even be more efficient than having everyone trying to read the text alone.

You mention that it can be fun for the kids. Probably my favorite examples of “choral reading” are more “choral singing,” in which the teacher provides the kids the song text.

Part of your question noted that you focus choral reading on poetry – and, again, admittedly that can be entertaining. Nothing wrong with kids enjoying this work.

Nevertheless, as much as I think it appropriate to practice fluency with poetry and verse, I fear that an important idea gets lost when that is the focus. Students need to learn to read a great variety of text – including stories, social studies articles, and science books. They need to develop a sense of how to read those texts fluently and that will be best developed by working with such texts. There are many differences in the syntactic features that are included in such texts and I want to be sure that kids get to try to negotiate those (including poetry).

It is very reasonable to do some work with poems, maybe even to start there since reading such texts aloud is a kind of authentic public performance (attend a “poetry slam” sometime). But it is also sound practice to segue from this to guiding students to read the kinds of text that will matter in their education.

The National Reading Panel (NRP) reported that students benefited from reading texts aloud repeatedly with guidance and feedback. Later work concluded that this is most beneficial with texts beyond the students’ instructional levels (not much benefit from practicing a text you can already read well). The studies NRP considered did not use choral reading, and I know of no studies conducted in the past two decades that have evaluated its effectiveness.

Clearly, choral reading matches the NRP guidance – with choral reading, students are reading texts aloud and usually with repetition, though the feedback is tough to provide because of the problem of discerning what everyone is up to. Accordingly, I would not discourage the use of choral reading, occasionally, just as I wouldn’t tell you not to include poetry and song in your fluency instruction.

The trick, I think, to making this work best for raising reading achievement is to make sure that kids are still getting plenty of opportunity to engage in individual reading that can be observed and supported, and plenty of opportunity to figure out how to read narrative and expository texts fluently, too.

My friend, David Paige (2011), provides some useful guidance for how to make use of choral reading in the classroom. He suggests that you use passages of 200-250 words in length and provide countdowns to get everyone started at the same time. He recommends that teachers circulate during this reading to try to hear mistakes and other difficulties (I find that hard to do with 25 voices going at once). He also suggests that these sessions incorporate both teacher modeling and some direct instruction of words that are problematic.

Personally, choral reading would be a very occasional activity or one with a very specific purpose (starting kids off with a passage). Nevertheless, it has been part of several fluency interventions that have been successful. The researchers can’t say that its inclusion is essential, and I cannot say that it isn’t.

References

Archer, A. L., Gleason, M. M., & Vachon, V. L. (2003). Decoding and fluency: Foundation skills for struggling older readers. Learning Disability Quarterly, 26, 89-101.

Dowhower, S. L. (1991). Fluency in oral reading. Theory into Practice, 30, 165-175.

Landreth, S. (2018). 3, 2, 1… Read! An engaging reading routine that builds fluency and morale in secondary readers. Texas Journal of Literacy Education, 6, 108-111.

Landreth, S., & Young, C. (2021). Developing fluency and comprehension with the secondary fluency routine. Journal of Educational Research, 114, 252-262.

         https://doi.org/10.1080/00220671.2021.1910475

Mefferd, P., & Pettegrew, B. S. Fostering literacy acquisition of students with developmental disabilities: Assisted reading with predictable trade books. Literacy Research and Instruction, 36, 177-190.

Paige, D. D. (2011). “That sounded good!”: Using whole class choral reading to improve fluency. Reading Teacher, 64, 435-438.

Rasinski, T., & Hoffman, J. V. (2003). Theory and research into practice: Oral reading in the school literacy curriculum. Reading Research Quarterly, 38, 510-522.

Comments

See what others have to say about this topic.

Barbara Schuh Jun 08, 2024 02:46 PM

I like choral reading for small group instruction because everyone is reading. In paired reading only half are reading at a time. That being said, it does lead to a lot of fake reading. And I have kids who are masters at echo reading. They are a half second behind the group.
My biggest concern is that with any group reading, the students aren't practicing skills of decoding. When they come to a word they don't know, they can just listen to the crew. So it seems, as you state, to make more sense to use this to practice for sounding fluent or to improve reading rate.

Patrick Manyak Jun 08, 2024 03:20 PM

We have used choral reading as a part of a "Fluency Oriented Reading Instruction" or FORI routine in many successful formative experiment studies focused on fluency/vocabulary or fluency/textual analysis. Much like Tim suggests, the teachers used it as a first read of a reasonably short text. We explicitly emphasize to the kids that they need to have their eyes on the text and be reading, as they will be reading the same text more independently as partners and that this is their "practice." For those who might be interested, here is some video footage of the marvelous Ann-Margaret Manyak engaging 3rd graders in choral reading (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEgGC5owCog) and then the subsequent partner reading (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsY86VFff1g) of a challenging science text as a part of our "Textual Analysis and Writing" routine. Although choral reading was just one of many consistent practices in her class, including targeted phonics/word reading instruction, focused small group word/text reading intervention, multifaceted vocabulary instruction, novel study, textual analysis discussion and written response, etc..., we documented years of stellar results in reading for students who entered 3rd grade at all levels. While it is true that we never tried to tease out the specific contribution of choral reading to these results, I personally wouldn't want to be an elementary teacher without having it as a part of my toolkit!

Regina Jun 08, 2024 03:49 PM

I love choral reading in small groups, I’ve seen a lot of success with it. Full class…we usually do fun things. Like learning songs. For the same reason you mentioned, all the kids don’t participate. But small groups it’s easy to monitor

Mary Baker-Hendy Jun 08, 2024 04:27 PM

In my experience, oral choral responses were most effective when segmenting and blending words or reading sentences as a group or class. Using I do, We do, You do I was able to monitor and ensure participation. The use of visual supports helps as well as stopping and reteaching the routine, if all are not participating.
For effective fluency practice, I highly recommend Quick Reads by Elfrieda Hiebert. After placement tests and learning the standard routine as a larger group, I had students read at their instructional level in pairs, one student orally read and the other scored. They switched and charted their scores and wrote sentence responses independently. As they read in pairs, I pulled a student and had them read with me, that way I routinely got an accurate and independent measure.
The great thing about Quick Reads is that the passages are on a specific topic, i.e. government, sports, that way you can follow-up and develop the topic in other ways and use for written responses and vocabulary, while developing content knowledge.
Thanks again for another interesting topic Dr. Shanahan.



Dr. Bill Conrad Jun 08, 2024 04:42 PM

Kudos to you Tim for your relentless adherence to evidence-based and research supported practices. A commitment that is so lacking within our almost anything goes profession!

Melanie Kuhn Jun 08, 2024 05:00 PM

I think it is easier in small groups because you can keep an eye on the kids. We use it in FORI, etc., but it could be a second echo reading would have been better. Good research question.

Lynn Heasley Jun 08, 2024 05:31 PM

"Later work concluded that this is most beneficial with texts beyond the students’ instructional levels (not much benefit from practicing a text you can already read well)."

Huh! I had been taught to practice fluency with very slow readers using text just below their instructional level. Does using text above instructional levels apply to stretching reading ability only (which I do use) or does it also apply to fluency focused instruction for dysfluent children? I greatly look forward to hearing back from you so that I can further hone my practice!

Harriett Janetos Jun 08, 2024 05:36 PM

I'm a big fan of Partner Reading as developed by PALS (Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies), which I've modified to work with grade level text. It involves pairing a stronger reader with a weaker reader (in a class of 24, #1 with #13, #2 with #14, etc.). Students who simply can't meaningfully access grade level text can work with the teacher in a small group. It takes a lot of teacher modeling and whole class practice to work, but it is worth the time. I discuss Partner Reading in conjunction with Paragraph Shrinking in my instructional guide to reading, From Sound to Summary: Braiding the Reading Rope to Make Words Make Sense. Here's the process I've used with grades 3 to 6, with the terminology 'coaches' and 'players', having the stronger reader always reading first.

Coach's Cues:

Wait. You said ____________. Try again.
(If reader is stalls) Let’s look at the first syllable. Now read all the syllables in the word.
Good job. Now read that sentence again. Or (if Player is still stumped): That word is ____________. Now read the sentence again.
Good job.

Timothy Shanahan Jun 08, 2024 06:40 PM

Lynn--
It is the only form of fluency training that seems to do any good. If the student can already read the text reasonably, then there is little payoff. Initially, that will be an issue of word recognition -- if the students able to decode the words accurately and with sufficient automaticity then they need to be in a harder text; later it becomes more of a comprehension issue -- if the student can already make the text sound like meaningful language, then if fluency is going to payoff, the practice needs to take place with a harder text. The point of the practice is to learn how to do it -- dropping back to work on something you can already do well, won't lead to learning.

tim

Lindsay Jun 08, 2024 09:44 PM

I love this post- I’m developing a PD for teachers on moving away from popcorn/round robin reading…kids who are learning to read are getting such limited practice with oral reading! Besides partner reading and choral reading, do you have any recommendations for how teachers can give students more practice reading text (in a class of 25)?

Timothy Shanahan Jun 08, 2024 09:54 PM

Lindsay--

There are a number of blogs on this site that may be of use:
https://www.shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/fluency-not-hurrying
https://www.shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/fluency-instruction-for-older-kids-really
https://www.shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/what-texts-to-use-to-teach-fluency
https://www.shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/round-robin-by-any-other-name-oral-reading-for-older-readers
https://www.shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/the-best-oral-reading-techniques-for-beginners
https://www.shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/faq-on-oral-reading-fluency-instruction
https://www.shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-repeated-reading
https://www.shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/how-to-teach-fluency-so-that-it-takes

Also, pretty much any of Timothy Rasinski's books would be real useful.

tim

Rachelle Berry-Bissessar Jun 11, 2024 10:45 AM

My initial training with teaching reading is by way of Direct Instruction, so yes, for sure I use choral reading. I share the concerns about students who are masters at responding a split second late and essentially echoing.....termed coattailing. My training told us to expect that and we learned strategies to address it. First, we must ensure that our students are in controlled text...materials that are familiar and not too challenging. Children are also expected to be following with a finger sliding (not bumping) under the text. When we do hear a student echoing, we say something like, "Let's do that again, I'm not hearing everyone reading together". And when they DO read chorally, recognize it so the students know what you're listening for. My experience has been that when the class finds themselves rereading sentences very often, they learn that if everyone is responding together, they don't have to repeat those sentences. I also tell my students that I will sometimes ask individual students to read a sentence alone, which tends to be my coattailers, but I try to hit everyone at least once (small groups). This helps me to know if my coattailer is in a can't versus won't situation. It's good to know that we don't have the evidence we'd like to have on choral reading. May be a dissertation waiting to happen.

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Choral Reading: Good Idea or Not?

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