Reading Aloud in the High School?

  • afterschool programs
  • 14 April, 2010

Recently, I came across some interesting stuff in Jay Mathews’s “Class Struggle” column in the Washington Post."

  Mr. Mathews explains that he noticed oral reading taking place during a high school classroom observation and he wondered whether this was a waste of time or a good idea. Various teachers chimed in, on both sides, with valuable insights. The column is worth a read—in fact, it would make a great kickoff to teacher discussions.

  I’ve been in the field of reading education for a long time (I started tutoring inner city kids in reading 40 years ago). For that entire time, the professoriate has been anti-oral reading (or “round robin reading” as it is usually pejoratively referred to). Why not oral reading? A lot of the complaints about it seem to be personal, based on childhood memories; these complaints focus on how nervous it made them, or how they only focused on their part and ignored the text.

  However, some of the criticism has been based on research. When I first started, the claim was that listening to a poor reader and trying to follow along in text was disruptive to the reading of the better readers. This important finding was based on a single study of about 6 kids doing a single reading. Not very convincing evidence. Later, another study was done that found kids answered questions better when the reading lesson focused on the text meaning rather than on oral reading practice. But, again, one study, one small group, one lesson.

  Despite expert complaints about the practice of oral reading, teachers have persisted. Every large scale observational or survey study of teaching finds it to be a common teaching practice. Of course, the professors were upset when Jane Stallings and her colleagues found amount of oral reading practice in class to be related to learning gains in reading—even in high school.

  The mindless each kid take a brief turn kind of oral reading is a bad idea, but not for the reasons given. Kids can learn a lot from oral reading practice, but some practices are just inefficient or poorly tuned. Tim Rasinski has shown the large numbers of disfluent high school students; paired reading, echo reading, and similar practices have been found to improve fluency—which in turn improves comprehension.

  Many of the teachers whose opinions were recorded by Mathews focus on more direct comprehension benefits, such as when the oral reading targets particularly complex aspects of the text—so the teacher can guide student translation (which makes a lot of sense, but which I don’t see much of when I visit schools). And, I always remember Eudora Welty talking about how important oral reading is to writers (I concur with this, and truth be told, I engage in quite a bit of oral reading myself—some material is just meant to be read aloud).

  No, don’t just have students taking turns reading paragraphs through your chapter; that’s a real time waster. But the practices noted above are well worth it, if your concern is student learning.


See what others have to say about this topic.

Christine DSouza Feb 27, 2018 11:50 PM

I believe that there is both purpose and value to oral reading, even in the high school. I have found that oral reading in small groups with struggling learners, resistant readers, and even self conscious readers is important/Though hesitant at first, they will eventually read aloud n a comfortable atmosphere. They learn fluency, they feel very proud of themselves and therefore eventually build academic self confidence, all of which directly and indirectly contributes to increased comprehension. They learn to respect and understand punctuation in relation to fluency/comprehension.
I see one of the ultimate goals/advantages is that silent reading should mirror the fluency and dramatic effects of oral reading - this definitely adds to overall comprehension and appreciation of reading, even if the material is not "pleasure reading". Oral reading can/will eventually help with comprehension of didactic,instructional, article, news, informative types of reading which further teaches students to recognize "author's purpose"....

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Reading Aloud in the High School?


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