Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Round Robin Reading Must Die

Recently while searching for videos of Guided Reading practice to share with teachers at a workshop, I was shocked to find so many of them employed Round Robin Reading as an instructional strategy despite the explicit direction from the chief proponents of Guided Reading, Fountas and Pinnell (1996), that all children read the complete text at the same time silently or in whisper voices.

I was further shocked when I did a presentation to teachers this week and said, “Of course in Guided Reading all students read the full text at the same time, Round Robin Reading is not to be used.” I could tell by the hush in the crowd that I had struck a nerve. A brave soul raised her hand and said, "But that’s how we all do it.” I responded, “Not anymore.”

For the uninitiated, Round Robin Reading is a practice that all of us will recognize from our own schooling. At its most basic, one student is assigned the reading of a paragraph or a page, while the other students are asked to listen and follow along. The class then repeats this one after the other.  I personally remember a social studies class back in the dark ages where this was a dominant form of instruction. While some poor sucker was asked to go first, the smarty pants among us followed closely, ready to pounce on any error so that we could shout out a holier than thou correction to general snickering throughout the room. The less confident in the class were busily trying to count desks to see which paragraph they would be assigned, so they could practice reading their paragraph and avoid the embarrassment of being corrected. I cannot remember ever understanding what was being read by someone else in this class.

Round Robin Reading has been thoroughly discredited as an instructional practice for many years. Here is the case against Round Robin.

1. Round Robin Reading can cause unnecessary sub-vocalization. Those students who are following along tend to sub-vocalize while others are reading aloud because oral reading is slower than silent reading. This can lead to ingrained slower reading rates.
 2. Round Robin Reading lowers the quantity of reading. Oral reading is slower, so kids read less. Only one child is reading, so kids read less.
3. Round Robin Reading does not provide an accurate view of reading for kids. It assigns too much emphasis to correct pronunciation and not enough on comprehension.
4. Round Robin Reading can lower self-esteem. Students do not gain confidence as readers through this practice, because it is an unrehearsed performance task where your errors are corrected, either by the teacher or other students, in a public way.
5. Round Robin Reading denies students the opportunity to self-correct errors, a critical reading skill.
6. Round Robin Reading can cause discipline problems as the rest of the class, bored by the practice, may stop following along and start goofing off.
7. Round Robin Reading takes time away from other more productive instructional activities. A great deal of time is spent in keeping children focused and because oral reading is slower, children may actually be encountering fewer words than they would with more enlightened practice.
8. Round Robin Reading can hamper listening comprehension. The students who are supposed to be listening are often either looking ahead or fooling around. As a comprehension activity this practice is completely unsupportable.
9. Round Robin Reading can be a source of anxiety and embarrassment for children. Reading aloud without the opportunity to rehearse takes the focus off comprehension and places it on avoiding embarrassment.
10. When others jump in to “help” in Round Robin Reading, they are robbing the reader of one key to learning to read well – the ability to self-monitor and use repair strategies when you make a mistake.

The case has been made. Round Robin must die. But what are the alternatives?

In Guided Reading, of course, the gold standard practice is to have all children read the whole text silently, while the teacher listens in to one student reading orally, prompting at the point of difficulty. The teacher then moves on to another student and another student. For students not yet reading silently, the students are taught to read aloud quietly while the teacher listens in one at a time.

There are times when we want students to read aloud. On reason would be for diagnostic purposes, but that is done privately. Genuine reasons for having children read aloud include Reader’s Theater, Radio Reading and other performance based oral readings. This oral reading is always done after ample rehearsal. For a wonderful list of oral reading activities for children please read, Good-Bye Round Robin Reading by Tim Rasinski and Michael Opitz, Heinemann, 1998.

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