Monday, December 15, 2014

The Power of Rereading

What if you knew of a single instructional strategy that research has shown improves decoding, fluency and reading comprehension? Would you use it? Of course, you say. And yet one of the most under used literacy strategies is such a well documented strategy: the strategy of rereading.

The research is clear on the benefits of rereading. What do we know about rereading as an instructional strategy?

  1. Rereading helps students develop a deeper understanding of what they have read (Roskos and Newman, The Reading Teacher, April 2014).
  2. Rereading helps students read with greater fluency, allowing them to give more attention to making sense of what they have read (Pikulski and Chard, The Reading Teacher, March 2005).
  3. Rereading helps students develop greater accuracy in reading. When students reread, words that they may have struggled to decode on a first reading become increasingly easier to parse (Samuels, The Reading Teacher, January, 1979).
Researchers further agree that repeated readings should focus on short chunks of text and that the focus of the instruction should be on both fluency and comprehension (Rasinski, The Reading Teacher, May 2012). A further benefit of rereading is that the fluency that children build by rereading one passage seems to transfer to new readings later on. In other words, rereading leads to better first readings of text. 

With so much research to back it up, rereading should be a daily aspect of every classroom teacher's instruction. The Common Core State Standards' call for repeated reading in a "close reading" design is welcome if it encourages the use of repeated readings in all classrooms, but close reading is only one place where repeated readings can and should be used. Here are several instructional domains where repeated reading can be used to good effect.

Shared Reading

Shared reading is a whole class activity where the teacher and students share the responsibility for reading and comprehending the text. A typical shared reading lesson might focus on a short picture book or poem that is displayed on chart paper or board so that all students can read the text.

Students are prepared for reading the text through the activation of background knowledge and predictions. The text is first read aloud to the students. The teacher would then discuss the meaning of the story/poem with the students and then do repeated readings which would include echo reading and several choral readings. 

In my classroom I used the strategy across a week of morning meeting lessons, where each day we would reread the story or poem to continue the development of fluency. Poetry lends itself particularly well to rereading, because the texts are generally short and the rhythm and rhyme of poetry support a fluent reading of the text.

For a more complete description of a shared reading/fluency model you might want to look at my book Snack Attack and other poems for developing fluency in beginning readers. Infinity Press, 2012

Guided Reading

Small group instruction is another place where teachers can take advantage of repeated reading opportunities. In guided reading, where all students are reading the whole text at the same time, some students may finish before others. Students should be instructed to reread the text if they finish before others have finished.

While teachers listen in to individual readers, students may be prompted to reread a passage to gain better fluency and understanding. indeed, whenever a student stops to "work through" a word, that student should be asked to go back and reread the entire sentence in which that word appeared.

The best follow up activity for a guided reading lesson is to have the students take the book back to their desks to reread, either individually or with a buddy reader. Guided reading lessons should often begin with a "warm up" of rereading the text from the previous guided reading lesson. Eventually guided reading texts should find themselves stored in a "browsing box" where children can revisit and reread them during independent reading time.

Readers Theater

Readers Theater is a type of performance art where actors do not memorize their lines, but instead read them from a prepared script. Readers theater is an ideal activity for encouraging students to do several readings of a text. Readers theater scripts are readily available from many sources both print and online, but the simplest approach, and the most powerful instructionally, is to have studnets adapt a favorite tale for performance.

In adapting a tale, students identify the dialogue in the story, take out the "he saids" and "she saids" and assign narrative eleements of the story to one, two or three narrotors. In preparing for performance, students rehaearse by reading their parts over and over in order to capture their character through vocal expression. This rehearsal provides the student with miultiple genuine reasons for reareading and the performance aspect allows students to focus on commnicating meaning with their voices.

Readers theater activities are ideal for developing another element of reading fluency, called prosody. Prosody is nothing more than reading with expression. When a student reads with expression, that student is demonstrating a deeper understanding of the message the text is trying to convey. We might say that the student is demonstrating an inferential understanding of the text.

For more on the use of Readers Theater as a classroom strategy, see Michael Opitz and Tim Rasinski, No More Round Robin Reading.

Close Reading

Close reading requires at least three readings of a text. Choosing the right texts for close reading is critical. The texts must be brief. The texts must also be of high quality; only high quality texts reward a close reading. So when we choose to do a close reading, we should be choosing to focus on some of the finest passages from some of our finest authors for children, young adults and adults. I am thinking of Steinbeck, Faulkner and Baldwin, but I am also thinking of Cynthia Rylant, E. B. White and Katherine Paterson.

In doing a close reading, the teacher seeks to guide the students to answering three questions about the text.
  1. What does the text say?
  2. How does the author craft the message to say this?
  3. What does the text mean and how is it relevant to me?
In order to accomplish this close reading, the children are asked to read the text to first identify what it says explicitly. They then read the text to observe, with the teacher's guidance, how the author uses the skills of the writer to communicate the message. Finally, the reader reads a third time to discover the larger meanings, the personal connections and the quality of the writing.

Close reading can and should be used sparingly, but as a method that gets students rereading it fits into an overall instructional design focused on improved fluency and comprehension. For more on close reading, and especially for a student focused approach to this strategy, I highly recommend the book Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading, by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst.

Rereading is a powerful instructional strategy. The more encounters children have with a text the better they will read it and the better they will understand it. Students need to be rereading text every day.