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Should high schoolers read aloud in class?

Recently I visited a history class at a local, low-performing high school where students read in turn from the autobiography of a famous American. The teacher was bright and quick. He interrupted often with comments and questions. The 18 sophomores and juniors seemed to be into it, but it was such an old-fashioned--and I suspect to some educators elementary--approach for that I decided to see what other educators thought of it.

I love spending time in classrooms, listening and watching. Often I see something new and surprising, or sometimes old and surprising like one young English teacher diagramming sentences. Was round robin reading (what educators usually call the read aloud technique I witnessed) bad or good? Was it a time-wasting throwback or a useful way to involve every student?

Yes and yes, teachers told me. That is the problem judging the way teachers teach. It all depends on the circumstances, the students, the object of the lesson, the style of the instructor and the judge. Read these and tell me who is right:

“I have observed this most often in high school English classes. During read alouds, I have observed students becoming disengaged from the instruction. While this may be an appropriate strategy for some instructional teaching points, i.e., intonation, emphasis, fluency, when done for expediency, I find reading aloud to be ineffective.”--Steve Johnson, Carroll County assistant superintendent for instruction.

“I frequently have my 12 Advanced Placement English students first read the Flannery O’Connor short story "A Good Man is Hard to Find" as a close reading homework assignment. Then we read in class (comments and questions handled as we go). I use this method to point out foreshadowing, effective diction and syntax. We all put on a Southern accent and dig in.”--Mary Ann Bell, Wakefield High School, Arlington County, AP coordinator and English department chair.

“We don’t encourage using a lot of instructional time to read aloud in high school English classes. Reading aloud selected passages that are especially difficult or rich in meaning is a frequent practice, but the emphasis is on the discussion and interaction with the text rather than the reading. Another typical use of reading aloud is when the class is reading a drama, especially a Shakespeare play, but our recommendation is for students to read after preparation rather than doing a cold reading.”--Jim Fliakas, Montgomery County supervisor of secondary English

“The Reading/English Language Arts Office encourages a method where students practice reading independently, to increase their own fluency and comprehension. This is done before sharing and clarifying ideas with a partner, a group, or with the entire class. This method improves comprehension of texts which are guided by the teacher.”---Prince George’s County spokesperson.

What do you think? Make a comment below. Even teachers with deep experience in urban classrooms are not on the same page. Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg, co-founders of the KIPP charter school network, think round robin reading is largely a waste of time in high school, except perhaps for students who are far behind. But Frazier O’Leary, the legendary AP English teacher at Cardozo High School in the District, says “I think reading aloud is an enlightening experience for teachers and students.”

In the particular classroom I was in, at that particular moment, it made sense to me. But this is an art, not a science, so individual interpretation is key.

For more Jay go to washingtonpost.com/class-struggle.

By Jay Mathews  | April 11, 2010; 10:00 PM ET
Categories:  Metro Monday  | Tags:  reading aloud in high school, round robin reading, round robin reading criticized and supported  
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Comments

Funny that no one mentioned reading aloud in class as a necessity when the students refuse to read as homework. That was the case in a high school where I worked.

Posted by: SilverSpringer1 | April 11, 2010 10:07 PM | Report abuse

Notice that the two teachers adamantly in favor of reading aloud teach AP English?

I sense a trend.

I will occasionally read aloud to students, but as a rule, don't see much value in students reading aloud. There's a technique you can use to ensure a greater degree of attention, but eh.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | April 11, 2010 10:08 PM | Report abuse

I think it is far more likely to be a waste of time than an engaging exercise. Perhaps in AP classes with engaged students and lively discussion it would be useful. However, in most cases, particularly with material difficult for the reader, the result will be slow and boring and not teach much of anything.

Posted by: tjloftus | April 12, 2010 7:04 AM | Report abuse

As with the teacher you observed Jay, I think reading aloud can be useful. First, understand that in the typical 10th grade history class I taught, I had kids that read at a college level and kids who read at about a fifth grade level. Second, many of my students refused to read on their own, so if we were going to cover textual material, it had to be in class. What you discover with hs kids in a heterogeneous class is that nearly all of them can decode words but many of them do not comprehend what they are reading. So a good activity is to have a couple of kids read a few paragraphs, have eveyone shut their books, and the begin asking questions. You can do that using a variety of levels of analysis to challenge your best students or seek basic factual info from less able students. So one kid you might ask to sum up a paragraph. Another kid you might ask to define or elaborate on certain words or concepts and a third you might ask to draw connections to other events. BTW even the less advanced students can make connections to other events, particularly if the events are ones that you emphasize over and over.
You might also want to develop spinoffs of the reading aloud activities. There are of course many suggestions out there as to how to do that by for example giving the kids handouts with every fifth word missing to see if they are understanding what they read.

Posted by: patrickmattimore1 | April 12, 2010 7:47 AM | Report abuse

With the extensive uses of computers, texting and other ways of communicating without conversation, students are losing the ability to have actual conversations with their peers and others. In the real world of business, it is necessary to be able to explain and converse with fellow employees and customers.

Reading aloud gives a student some ability to influence his audience by his emotions and understanding of the reading matter. Yes, some are good and some are not so good - but we learn by doing. We need to be able to converse with others and the reading aloud gives a student the confidence and ability to do that.

Posted by: Utahreb | April 12, 2010 8:12 AM | Report abuse

I think reading aloud is a skill to learn like any other. Thin of how many people fear public speaking of any kind. When students move on to their professional careers they are going to have to express ideas verbally.

Aside from the public speaking benefits, it is beneficial for students to hear words with inflection, tone and feeling. Many students that I have heard read aloud, read in a flat monotone. It tells me that they do not understand the emotions that the words reflect.

I'm not an AP English teacher, just a math teacher who has taught a reading class.

Posted by: geneg2 | April 12, 2010 8:21 AM | Report abuse

patrickmattimore1: That might be a good way to improve their reading, but when do you get around to teaching reading?

I substituted for an English teacher whose high-school juniors were reading To Kill a Mockingbird. The students informed me that they were literally reading it--going around the room taking turns reading a passage. Interestingly, the two who read the most fluently read with no expression; the student who had been acting up stumbled over a lot of words but turned in a performance worthy of the movie!

Interestingly, 50 years ago this school system had the chance to consolidate with the one I later attended and refused to do so because the townspeople didn't want to give up their own sports teams. I don't know if there's a connection.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | April 12, 2010 8:22 AM | Report abuse

I remember when we had to read out loud in elementary school and I hated it. I always was so self conscious, despite being a good reader. I was fine in high school when we did dramatic Shakespeare readings, but that's only because we practiced them a lot before performing them.

Posted by: MLNoVa | April 12, 2010 8:27 AM | Report abuse

It all depends on what they are reading. Look at the cases cited in the article an in the reader comments; if the students are reading good literaturs, such as O'Connor and Harper, they are engaged and interested enough to participate in a good conversation.

This isn't the kind of rote reading for the sake of practicing reading skills or killing time. It's using the material for a higher purpose.

The same effect can be found in elementary classrooms. If children are allowed time to read good books, they become thoroughly engaged and want to read. THAT is what makes good readers, not endless phonic practice.

Posted by: aed3 | April 12, 2010 8:32 AM | Report abuse

Whether to read aloud depends on your class objective. For example, I asked my each of my 27 students to read a paragraph from a New York Times article about a study of how a large sample of employers felt about the young people they were interviewing and/or hiring. Each student had a copy. During the reading I asked students to highlight the words they did not understand. Afterwards, they wrote these words on the whiteboard. Then I directed them to look up the words in the dictionary (we had several) and to explain to the class what they thought the words meant in the context of the article. Turns out they could not fully comprehend the article without comprehending these key words. Once we were clear on the article’s key themes, we had a lively discussion on how the students felt about the employers’ negative perceptions about young workers and what they could do to turn around these perceptions starting TOMORROW.

So, the reading aloud accomplished several objectives. It allowed me to gauge: the reading fluency of the students and their comfort in speaking before the group; the extent of their vocabulary; their ability to become engaged and discuss their point of view with their classmates; and finally, their ability to convert negative perceptions and feelings into positive actions.
To learn more about the Fast Break program that employs such methodologies, go to www.haberfoundation.org or write bsels@aol.com.

Posted by: bsels | April 12, 2010 8:40 AM | Report abuse

Anybody else find it disheartening that Jay was surprised to see sentence diagramming taught in an English class? What a sad commentary on the state of Language Arts instruction in this country...

Posted by: CrimsonWife | April 12, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Many of the above comments apply more to English classes than to a social studies class. In the social studies class, reading in the classroom is primarily used to find the necessary data in order to carry on the discussion or activity. I've found it more useful to ask a question first, then refer students to the text for the answer or data. To help other students, it is worthwhile sometimes to ask where that data was found and to ask another student to read that specific portion aloud. This encourages closer reading and builds reading skills. However, non-directed reading aloud is, to my mind a time waster.

Posted by: lindereds | April 12, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

I found reading aloud to be one of the most excruciatingly boring experiences as a student.

It makes sense for lyrical poetry recitations, or for learning about famous speeches or other spoken matter, but reading aloud a novel, short story, or nonfiction material is a ridiculous waste of time.

Posted by: staticvars | April 12, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse

I student-taught in a full inclusion 8th grade class in Boston. The teacher used a variety of reading techniques. When she did round robin reading, every student had to participate, but students volunteered for sections of various lengths--some were a page, others a paragraph. Before the read-aloud, they had a few minutes to prepare by reading their sections silently and asking for help with unfamiliar words. Once the read-aloud began, it went much more smoothly than what I experienced when I was a child--much less slow, painful stumbling. This process met the needs of struggling readers who would otherwise have resisted reading aloud for fear of embarrassment--they were able to be successful at reading and feel comfortable participating with their peers. It was good for students like I had been, who could read aloud fluently but not comprehend their reading unless they read silently. It was good for kids who liked to read aloud and were good at it, because they got to read a somewhat longer section but weren't allowed to dominate the read-aloud. It was one of the most successful examples of differentiated instruction I've ever seen, meeting each student where they were and engaging them all in exploring literature together.

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Posted by: itkonlyyoupp | April 12, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

I agree with those who say that while there is a place for reading aloud in class, to use it as the main class time activity is for the students a waste of their time. Nothing can be gained. I had a Latin teacher who taught Latin by having us read out loud in a predictable order. I figured out which paragraph I was to read and I spent my time practicing that so I could do it without making a fool of myself. I have observed teachers who do this in their classrooms and students soon get very bored and disconnected. I am a retired teacher and I think the overuse of oral reading should not be tolerated nor encouraged.

Posted by: Mainegal | April 12, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Thinking back to my days in high school, I remember reading a complete text aloud in only one class.

Not coincidentally, it was the only year I opted out of honors English. Listening to half-literate* students stumble through text in which they had zero interest was painful and a complete waste of everybody's time. It wasn't interactive; just rote reading. But, at least the teacher didn't have to come up with a better plan.

In other years, we did read important selections aloud. But, this was limited to pieces for which reading aloud made sense - plays, poetry, etc.

* To be fair, about half of the students in the class were not native speakers of English. I can see the utility in having them read aloud - but that should be done in a dedicated ESOL class, not a general English class.

Posted by: HerndonBiker | April 12, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

I believe reading aloud in a classroom should be encouraged. Not only does it help with comprehension of the material, it can also help with those who are shy. For example, I was extremely shy when I was younger. I hated speaking in front of a class, or reading aloud. I had the feeling that everyone in the room was judging me, and not in a good way. I think, now looking back, it has helped me tremendously. I still have issues with my shyness, but I'm slowly overcoming that. As for comprehension, yes it can be helpful, especially in an AP English class. I remember reading "The Odsessy", and I was not even in an honor or an AP classroom setting. We read some parts and I still didn't understand it. I ended up renting the movie, and then I understood it.(haha)

Posted by: micheleswarn | April 12, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

I agree ap french is a tough course to take. but everyone should challenge there abilites and not settle for less. Your education is very important and everyone should take it seriously. I also disagree on the fact that classes don't take a lot of there time to read out aloud. i feel as they should take time to do so. this is helpful to others who are not understanding or are lost at the moment in the book to ask questions

Posted by: doubletapking | April 12, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

My high-performing daughters have attended a high school which has a large number of low-performing students. With no ability grouping in the English classes for 9th and 10th graders, they were periodically forced to sit through the glacial-paced, non-fluid, stumbling out-loud reading of classmates reading at the third or fourth grade level. As near-college level readers by that time, it wasn't too useful for them to sit through that.

Their middle school had "accelerated" classes, so the experience in high school was was new to them. I'd say the only benefit was their learning first-hand how incredibly poorly their high school classmates could read, complaining about it at home, and then us using that to start yet another conversation about our society's haves and have nots.

As a result, they did develop a significant degree of understanding about the vast differences in academic ability among their schoolmates which are largely tied to home life and social class. They learned that not everyone had been taken from age 3 to the library and Borders on a regular basis, or had walls and walls covered with loaded bookshelves at home, or even parents who ever read.

But my daughters were definitely relieved when they got to the 11th grade and could be in AP English classes with classmates with abilities similar to their own.

Posted by: pondoora | April 12, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Reading aloud is like anything else. It is a tool that should be used appropriately. One does not use a screwdriver to drive a nail. For poetry and novels, plays and oratory, it is wonderful because their main presentation oftentimes is the performance arts. For example, there was "a dark and stormy night" where we had lost power during a dinner party. As all of the electronic media were useless, we lit candles, and I read Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven." I read it using techniques I learned in the Loudoun County public schools. To this day, some twenty years later, those who attended remark about what a really fun and entertaining memory that is for them. So, read aloud, I say, but just don't do it in chemistry class, OK?

Posted by: tmkelley | April 12, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

My goal as a literature teacher has always been to build a love of reading in all my student, and I employ many techniques to help create this bond with literature.
I have found that read alouds can enhance students’ understanding of text as well as build fluency skills. With higher level classes students particularly enjoy dramatic read alouds following a silent reading homework assignment. This often helps build performance skills, and often leads to inspiring class discussions regarding individual interpretations of the text. For those students who are auditory learners and more challenged by silent reading, read alouds help maintain focus and improve understanding of the text. Those who struggle with reading fluency always have the option to pass when it is their turn to read aloud, but once they have listened to the text read aloud and have had time to prepare, they are expected to participate in the dramatic presentation. This is not designed to embarrass anyone and I always want students to feel comfortable in my class. I feel confident this process works, and I am proud of the number of students who now claim a love of literature.

Posted by: skillsandstrategies | April 12, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

If the students were "into it" then it is probably a worthwhile activity. Teachers need to use their professional judgment in deciding what strategies to use. Of course it would be better if the students read at home so the discussion could take place in class, but many teachers know that this is sometimes not realistic.

By the way, this is a good example of why it's very important for students to be classes where many of their classmates are high-performing and motivated. Teenagers are very much influenced by their peers, so if the majority of the students do their homework, the unmotivated classmate might want to do it also.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | April 12, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Reading aloud shouldn't be thought of as an isolated skill confined to English or literature classes. The whole purpose of reading is to discover and interpret information across all fields. It's just as important for comprehending a math problem, interpreting scientific information, reading current news and interpreting historical documents. For any of these areas, it's often useful to have students find information critical to the lesson, read it aloud, and then put it to use in a discussion. It helps the reader focus on what's important. Reading aloud helps everyone in the room get more out of the lesson.

Posted by: aed3 | April 12, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

I hope teachers have a purpose in mind when asking students to read aloud rather than to kill time. There are a million good reasons for it as listed above. Some students can feel very uncomfortable and should not be forced to read aloud unless they have plenty of time to prepare.

Posted by: readingteacher2 | April 12, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

As for sentence diagramming--I started using it years ago when I discovered that my 4th graders were clueless about identifying verbs and nouns,let along objects. I went to a used book store and got an old copy of Warriner's English Grammar (since I had forgotten a lot of the fine points) and began using it. I found that kids LOVE diagramming. It has the same appeal as deciphering a puzzle, especially when combined with color coding. A few like to be challenged with really complex sentences having multiple clauses. I once did an art lesson on illuminated manuscripts, and then the class made illuminated diagrams for the holidays.

Most English textbooks on the market today (at least on the elementary level) are pure garbage when it comes to grammar. Teachers who understand grammar and understand its importance are pretty much on their own if they want to teach it well, and diagramming is one tool that should be used more.

Posted by: aed3 | April 12, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Wow. This is many more comments than I expected, and with a depth I have come to expect from readers of this blog, but still impressive. A lot of you really know the classroom. I particularly liked the posts on the different challenges of history and English teaching. I am going to have to get into the hot new book for teachers, Doug Lemov's Teach like a Champion, when I get back from vacation and can't wait to see what you say about that.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | April 12, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

I have had some experience teaching students of all ages, usually in the context of public speaking or drama classes which I will allow is a different focus from that of an English or History-type of class setting. I see very little downside to reading aloud in any situation; I think it forces a type of attention and committment to comprehension of material that "self-reading" does not demand. It is a particulularly vital excercise with poetry or dramatic literature. Those types of texts are literally written to be spoken aloud. These works do not tap into their power until the words are spoken and heard. I would argue the same value could be drawn from other more technical texts, though they may not have been written with the idea of reading aloud in mind. In any case, as other commenters have said, reading aloud and public oratory are valuable skills, and if for no other reason, reading aloud ought to be employed to foster those skills.

Posted by: schmactor | April 12, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

I think you already answered your won question:

It all depends on the circumstances, the students, the object of the lesson, and the style of the instructor.

Posted by: baseballguy | April 12, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

I think you already answered your own question:

It all depends on the circumstances, the students, the object of the lesson, the style of the instructor

Posted by: baseballguy | April 12, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

As a student in Fairfax County, I found reading aloud to be sometimes frustratingly slow, because I am a very fast reader, but often used well by teachers. My IB English HL teacher put reading aloud to good use, particularly for poetry and drama (Hamlet). We rarely just sat and read a chapter of prose aloud, but were encouraged to reference the text as we discussed by reading a phrase, line, or even several paragraphs, whatever was needed to make our point.

I also have seen reading aloud used effectively by professors now at Virginia Tech. My Latin teacher has us read aloud from the "scholarly text" (in English!) and then decipher it. He interrupts frequently to either clarify himself or ask questions, thus keeping us involved intellectually.

My thoughts on reading aloud are that it should be done randomly, to keep students on their toes: draw names from a hat or choose randomly. Don't go by volunteer basis or in order of seats, because students will zone out.

Posted by: sarahee | April 12, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

I think that round robin reading is helpful on many levels. Hearing and saying words help with their imprint on the brain. At the very least, reading allowed helps the teacher know who is up to standards on their reading and comprehension, since so many kids in high schools in this area still can't read or write properly. Sometimes, the old way is a more effective way, even in this tech age of acronmyms.

Posted by: lidiworks1 | April 12, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Jay, this article is very interesting and I can see how this topic for student to read aloud could be a controversial topic. I think that high school teachers should make their student read aloud in the class because it keeps the student involved with the reading. Where if a teacher just read every single day aloud kids would start to day dream and fall asleep. That is where you see the problem that kids do not have high reading levels because the teacher reads out loud everyday or they just do not read when they are suppose to. This is why I don’t think they should just make AP students read aloud it has to be every type of class. This is only going to help the kids become better students in the long run. For me as a student I rather have a class read along rather than a teacher stand up all class and read.

Posted by: bslaxin3 | April 12, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Sarahee,
I totally understand where you’re coming from with it “sometimes frustratingly slow, because I am a very fast read” I can agree with you in that part of it. Even though it is frustrating it is a opportunity for everyone to be on the same level whether they are fast readers for even slower readers. This could also be the time where you help those slower readers out with words and other grammar areas.

Posted by: bslaxin3 | April 12, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

As an honors and AP student in high school and college and now as a professional, I have a very hard time following when someone is reading aloud. My mind immediately begins to wander and I get lost. At the same time, I know plenty of people that comprehend information much better when it is read aloud.

Additionally, I have seen numerous comments relating reading aloud and public speaking, which I feel are not that related. I am a very good public speaker but awful public reader. Public speaking is in my own words with my own sentence stucture. Readind aloud is the complete opposite.

Posted by: djhoffma | April 12, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

I'm a college student and a parent. It is very useful for students to read aloud in the classroom. It builds reading fluency, self esteem and their understanding skills. Just because you read something doesn’t always mean that you understand it. That's a big problem in this country reading and comprehension skills. If reading aloud in class helps a student understand the literature then use those old techniques. There are a lot of students who don't read that well, but this is when the teachers need to step in and help. Make sure that students aren't made fun of. Instead encourage other students to work with those who have some reading disabilities or delayed learning. I say use the buddy system. Just like mainstreaming a child into a classroom that is coming from a special education class.Reading is fundamental. Teachers have to make reading fun anyway they can. I applaud those theachers who do anything they can to encourage a child to read.

Posted by: micheleswarn | April 12, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

bslaxin3. I totally agree with you. I think all students should participate in reading books in class regardless of the reading level. Personally I would rather student after student reads rather than the teacher or professor reading. Different voices different tones. Let's keep the reading interesting, and have fun with it.

Posted by: micheleswarn | April 12, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

bslaxin3, it is not even so much an issue of some not knowing grammar/vocab (these were IB classes) as just speed: in general, reading aloud is slower than reading silently, and as I read along with whoever is reading aloud, it is painfully slow. I have the same problem with books on tape, and those are professional readers! I guess I just need some patience.

Posted by: sarahee | April 12, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Reading aloud also prepares students for public speaking. While they are using a "script", it helps them build confidence in addressing a group of people.

Posted by: aksunder | April 12, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

I'm in my 3rd year teaching hgih school world history in a northern VA high school. The students I teach are mostly ELL (English Language Learner) students. All of what the students learn is based on reading.

I used to leave it up to them as to how they read it. I often used to read to them. We used a variety of methods to read the text out loud, and they often asked me to read it. But no matter how we did it, I would notice that about 75% of the class was not even paying attention, and often, classroom disruptions occured because students were not engaged. So, I tried having them complete outlines, graphic organizers, etc. as we read out loud. That proved to be better, but still, too many were not even paying attention. So now, I simply give them an outline, chart, or graphic organizer to complete on their own as they read the text in small groups. This seems to work the best for this particular group of students. We never read outloud as a group anymore.

Posted by: mesaverde1 | April 12, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

I'm in my 3rd year teaching high school world history in a northern VA high school. The students I teach are mostly ELL (English Language Learner) students. All of what the students learn is based on reading.

I used to leave it up to them as to how they read it. I often used to read to them. We used a variety of strategies to read the text out loud, and they often asked me to read it. But no matter how we did it, I would notice that about 75% of the class was not even paying attention, and often, classroom disruptions occured because students were not engaged. So, I tried having them complete outlines, graphic organizers, etc. as we read out loud. That proved to be better, but still, too many were not even paying attention. So now, I simply give them an outline, chart, or graphic organizer to complete on their own as they read the text in small groups. This seems to work the best for this particular group of students. We never read out loud as a group anymore.

Posted by: mesaverde1 | April 12, 2010 5:51 PM | Report abuse

Sarahee,
I understand where your coming from with it is slower then reading silently, but I just think over all it depends on the teacher and how he or she likes to teach because in high school I had a history teacher who liked to read himself right from the book when other teachers would let us read out loud as a class.

Posted by: bslaxin3 | April 12, 2010 6:49 PM | Report abuse

As another reader mentioned, I, too, was forced to read aloud in Latin class and hated it until I decided to read it with an Italian inflection. It startled my teacher (who had grown up in S.C.), but it caught on with other students. When I began teaching biology I found students hesitant to read anything with scientific words. I decided to work on vocabulary pronunciation as a contest between random groups of students, and the students enjoyed that immensely. As they left class I could hear them calling and responding with their new words and definitions, over-enunciating for fun. I taught in three different types of Baltimore schools: arts, neighborhood, and technical. I was surprised that students at the technical school insisted on reading aloud, and they wanted to choose the person who followed them. This technique proved to be a catalyst for discussion in health classes. Five minutes of reading opened an hour or more of fast-paced questions and answers. As Maria Montessori said, "And the child shall lead."

Posted by: patriciacaldwell | April 12, 2010 7:12 PM | Report abuse

I have taught middle school English and Literature for five years. I like to use a variety of reading techniques during my Literature class. Sometimes, I read to the class. Other times, we do round robin like the article mentions. Other times, we read out loud on a volunteer basis. We have also listened to audiobooks, and read in pairs or groups. We have also watched videos of people performing the pieces. I truly believe that it is important to get as much variety in reading as possible. The kids will experience the different forms and be able to determine which one best suits their learning style. Plus, it offers me much needed variety in my days. If all we did was sit and read round robin every day, I'd be bored to tears.

Oh, and about the "young teacher" and diagramming sentences? I have done that every year since I started teaching.

Posted by: aleixa | April 12, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

"So now, I simply give them an outline, chart, or graphic organizer to complete on their own as they read the text in small groups. This seems to work the best for this particular group of students. We never read out loud as a group anymore. "

This is what I find works best, too, when teaching history.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | April 12, 2010 7:28 PM | Report abuse

My high-performing daughters have attended a high school which has a large number of low-performing students. With no ability grouping in the English classes for 9th and 10th graders, they were periodically forced to sit through the glacial-paced, non-fluid, stumbling out-loud reading of classmates reading at the third or fourth grade level. As near-college level readers by that time, it wasn't too useful for them to sit through that.

Posted by: pondoora | April 12, 2010 11:45 AM
...................................
Questions about students reading out loud as so much in education is meaningless in an educational environment where the students in classrooms are not based upon their skill level.

Apparently Americans believe that by mixing students with different skill levels in the same classroom the expertise of students with high level skills will somehow magically rub off onto the students with poor level skills.

Posted by: bsallamack | April 12, 2010 7:36 PM | Report abuse

Round-robin reading is a no-no here in Connecticut. Teachers can use other techniques such as choral and echo reading instead. However, these strategies are mostly used in elementary school and with students who need help with fluency, not in a general education, high school setting.

Posted by: cakers00 | April 12, 2010 8:55 PM | Report abuse

As fascinating and diverse as these comments have been, I think Jay's post opens the door to a much broader discussion. There has been so much talk lately about linking teacher pay and tenure to student performance. Standardized test scores are usually mentioned as one measuring stick of teacher evaluations, but things get a bit murkier when politicians and "experts" start jawing over OTHER performance measures. If experienced teachers have such different opinions over the value of reading aloud, how on earth are administrators or other outsiders going to objectively measure how well a teacher is teaching? Is the teacher wasting time? Is the teacher motivating students? Is the teacher demanding something necessary of the students, even though they don't like it much? The devil is in the details.

Posted by: daveairozo | April 12, 2010 9:59 PM | Report abuse

I totally disagree with the blogger (reading teacher2) Teachers don’t tell the students to read just to kill time, what kind of thing is that to say. I really hope that you are not a reading teacher. Your statement is very alarming. If you were my kid’s teacher I would really have an issue with you and your opinions.

Posted by: micheleswarn | April 12, 2010 10:00 PM | Report abuse

I read aloud from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, among other things, even with my top-level juniors. But it's selective, especially for a controversial novel like that one (those are often the best ones to read from).

I'll avoid passages with racist language, and I'll focus on passages where even a solid high schooler might miss the subtle irony. Pace and tone of voice help them see it, and they laugh at humor they often didn't get when they read at home -- it's modeling, and it's fun. The best things to read aloud are those with sophisticated humor.

The kids will read aloud some, too, especially for plays. They'll have to practice inflection and we'll stop frequently to discuss whether a particular reading captures the nuances, whether word X or Y should be emphasized, what's the word most freighted with meaning, etc.

If it it carefully designed, it can be a very useful exercise, even with honors and gifted high schoolers (as many commenters noted already).

Posted by: carlrosin | April 12, 2010 10:01 PM | Report abuse

I think that for some students reading aloud may be good for teaching them. This is especially true for students who have reading disabilites. Personally, I know a couple of people who actually comprehended things better when they were read aloud. These individuals admitted to having dyslexia.

However, I also believe that reading for comprehension is something that we all should be learning before high school. Many tests that we experience in grade school require us to define a single word from a sentence or summarize a passage. We should be taught at a younger age that when we don't know the definition of a word that we refer to a dictionary. Furthermore, when our kids are still trying to learn to comprehend these things in high school it speaks of the failure of our education system. Somewhere down the line basic skills that should have been taught were skipped, which puts the children further behind.

Posted by: tawwsha3 | April 12, 2010 10:45 PM | Report abuse

I am a high school English teacher with 30-plus years of experience, and I'd like to thank you for raising this topic; it's wonderful to have the opportunity to discuss and share ideas that work--or perhaps didn't work. I do use round-robin reading for specific purposes, but especially to read something that is so beautiful or powerful that it should be read aloud. I always try to incorporate skills in how to read aloud with expression, in a loud, clear voice; oral interpretation should be a pleasure for both readers and listeners. I also think that it's important for the students to be able to roll the words around on their tongues and articulate more complex vocabulary and sentence structure than they'd normally use. It's also helpful to have the students sit in a circle and face each other when we are reading aloud. It's not always easy, especially when there are 34 students in the class, but it is usually worth the trouble. What's most important is that reading aloud is not just a "throw away" activity; it should be a way to put a spotlight on writing that is worthy of the attention....And, teachers should model the activity by themselves being enthusiastic and excellent readers.

Posted by: ksherwood1 | April 12, 2010 11:04 PM | Report abuse

Reading aloud has proven to be ineffective in building comprehension, fluency, and self confidence. It is an outdated practice in today's classroom. Students have shown improvment in reading when they are in small groups and reading with a peer. This provides a non-intimidating atmosphere and it also allow at risk students to be engaged without ridcule from other students.

Posted by: bigdaddysbaby | April 13, 2010 12:09 AM | Report abuse

Reading aloud was common in my untracked junior high, back in the late 70's. It was terrible. Many of the kids could barely read at all - it was torture having to sit and listen. The time we wasted on reading aloud could have been spent getting those kids the help they needed, and letting the rest of us discuss the material and perhaps learn something. What I learned instead was to always have another book hidden on my lap to read so I didn't die of boredom.

Posted by: bkmny | April 13, 2010 6:18 AM | Report abuse

Tjloftus, I disagree with you because I feel that if you read out loud in class the students will get a better understanding of the subject we are working on, and the students interact with each other and get into debates over the subject, teaching them the normalcy of everyday adult life I just feel it is a good idea. I mean maybe not in every class however, I think it wouldn't hurt in some maybe in English when the students are reading a book together or even for a project.

Posted by: bslaxin3 | April 13, 2010 8:08 AM | Report abuse

aksunder: Reading aloud does NOT prepare students for public speaking and help them "build confidence in addressing a group of people." If they are a poor reader to start with, it just makes them more reluctant to speak out. My father insisted the required speech class in college would be good for me because "if you make a lot of speeches you'll get used to it"; instead, having to speak up with a teacher noting down every mistake just made my stage fright worse and helped me decide on a career change.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | April 13, 2010 8:44 AM | Report abuse

I can't believe no one has challenged Linda/RetiredTeacher's statement that students should be mixed in class because "if the majority of the students do their homework, the unmotivated classmate might want to do it also."

More likely the unmotivated classmate will resent, make fun of and, in some schools, even attack the student who always has the homework. I had a teacher who, incredibly, announced the test grades as he handed them back. The day the student who always led the class had a bad day, his grade was greeted with applause.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | April 13, 2010 8:56 AM | Report abuse

Questions about students reading out loud as so much in education is meaningless in an educational environment where the students in classrooms are not based upon their skill level.

Apparently Americans believe that by mixing students with different skill levels in the same classroom the expertise of students with high level skills will somehow magically rub off onto the students with poor level skills.


Posted by: bsallamack | April 12, 2010 7:36 PM | Report abuse

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I agree, agree, agree with bsallamack! There are situations in which mixed-ability groupings are a good thing. It can work, for example, for certain types of projects in core academic areas, art, and music classes. We cannot, however, keep expecting high-ability students to “rub off” or “help” lower-performing kids. In an above comment bslaxin3 said, “This could also be the time where you help those slower readers out with words and other grammar areas.” If I understand correctly, the poster was replying to a student, not a teacher, which means he/she is suggesting that this particular student should help teach other kids. If you actually want to do that, then go right ahead (I hope you’re not resented for it; this is a common problem when struggling students receive unwanted help from higher-ability classmates). The real issue comes in when a teacher starts expecting students to teach lower-ability peers or holding them back to let struggling students catch up. The latter is what often happens with round robin reading. Those of high ability and high-level reading skills sit twiddling their thumbs while other students struggle through the text (publicly, which is very damaging to their dignity and may discourage reading altogether). The high-ability students then grow to, at best, zone out, and, at worst, hate the activity. If it’s used often enough, they may eventually begin to despise the teacher, class, or entire subject.

In the case of dramatic readings or short selections this model of instruction may be useful, but in our current climate of mixed-ability classrooms it’s often inappropriate and can, in fact, be damaging.

Posted by: aec7c | April 13, 2010 10:32 AM | Report abuse

response to(sideswiththekids) This is an outrageous statement are you absolutely out of your mind. Were you that one student who made fun of the kids who did their homework? Did you need some help. Were you embarrassed when you were reading. The teacher who announced the grades of all the students a loud should have been fired for making other students feel inadequate. This is not the way things are suppose to work. Sounds like you had a bad teacher.

Posted by: micheleswarn | April 13, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

As a former special education teacher and now a university educator and researcher, this particular topic is within my area of specialty and interest.

This particular topic is referred to as oral reading fluency (ORF). A significant amount of research has clearly established that being proficient at oral reading is positively related to reading comprehension. Certainly this makes "tabletop" sense, students who have trouble decoding words are going to have difficulty making meaning from the text. The strategy of round-robin reading is no longer recognized as a viable instructional strategy for the reasons already mentioned in previous posts. However, the basic problem still exists which is that far too many students are unable to fluently read grade-level texts. Support for this comes from results of the National Test of Educational Progress (NAEP) which shows that about two-thirds of 4th- and 8th-grade students comprehend text at the "Basic" level and below. Basic by the way, denotes only partial mastery of the skills required for grade level reading. There are several strategies much more appropriate for the development or ORF. One such strategy is whole-class choral reading (WCCR) where the entire class reads aloud in unison with the teacher from the same piece of text. Because all students are reading, no one student is put on display as a poor reader. Because the teacher and the good oral readers in the class are modeling appropriate ORF, poorer readers are able to immediately hear correct models of pronunciation and expressive reading. Once students learn to read in unison, this strategy can be easily adapted for tasks such as reading instructions and reading short passages from a book or overhead.
Students get better at reading by, get ready, reading - kind of like learning to shoot a basketball. This strategy is particularly effective in classes where many students don't read well. WCCR requires no extensive training on the part of the teacher, no phonics instruction, just the ability to lead the class in reading.

Posted by: dpaige | April 13, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

It used to be common to announce grades while handing out papers, or to hand them out in order of grade (best papers handed back first). I was in junior high in the 70's, in the south, and saw this all the time. My school was untracked, and in English class, the teacher had the better students "help" the struggling students (see, that is not a new modern idea). The girl I was supposed to "help" told me that I had to do her homework for her or she would beat me up. Fights between girls in my school were very common, so as a terrified 12 year old, I did her homework for her.

Posted by: bkmny | April 13, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I think that forcing students to read aloud in class is a terrible idea for two reasons: attention and stress.

The obvious problem is one that any student is familiar with, the slow pace and dullness of going around the room and having everyone read. I was a fairly focused high school student, but I always found my attention drift when the reading aloud began because I finished reading the paragraph before the person was done speaking. I then continued to not pay attention through the rest of the reading, especially after my bit was done.

The second point doesn't affect all students, but it affected me. I have a terrible fear of speaking in front of people, and presentations were literally hell for me. Reading aloud in class was almost worse in some ways. First, the teacher didn't always go in a particular order, so there was the stress that built with every time I wasn't picked to read. Then there was the horrors when I did read.

I react physically and mentally to this type of stress. I panic mentally, I start to sweat and tremble, my mind goes completely blank when it comes to the relevant material, and when I speak, I stammer and struggle with words despite being a strong reader. It was always so hard for me to read aloud in class and hear everyone snickering under their breath at the smart kid who had trouble reading aloud.

Posted by: Wander099 | April 13, 2010 8:38 PM | Report abuse

Round Robin Reading is an antiquated reading technique that does nothing but bore the good readers and embarrass the struggling ones. Differentiated classrooms allow for different groups to be reading texts on their level. Teachers can meet with the groups and do more focused reading lessons depending on the needs of that particular group. One size does not fit all in a classroom.

Posted by: michaeljobopp | April 13, 2010 9:32 PM | Report abuse

I did read aloud today to a 6th grade class...in math! We're prepping this week for next week's Ohio Achievement Assessment--reviewing strategies for answering multiple choice questions, methods for completing short answer and extended response questions, and encouraging the students.

I think reading aloud calms the anxious students down and prepares them for extremely quiet environment during the assessments.

Posted by: RKLN | April 13, 2010 10:52 PM | Report abuse

Although I agree it is useful sometimes to accomplish limited goals, what I see as I walk down the hallways of the high school where I teach are two failed strategies. One is to read in class where the teacher reads the passages because he or she is in love with their own voice, or the passage is too "difficult" for the students. The other is "silent reading" - which I also think is a great way to "not teach" that day, and assumes the kids will not do the reading on their own. Although I commiserate with my colleagues who have mixed ability classes, reading aloud in class teaches not to the top, not to the middle, but to the bottom while the rest of the students mentally check out.

Posted by: hotrod3 | April 14, 2010 12:29 AM | Report abuse

I may have missed it in some of the comments here, but another reason for SOMETIMES reading aloud is to practice correct pronunciation and to simply develop an ear for different sounds, particularly of vocabularly one does not use in ordinary conversation.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | April 14, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

As a special education teacher, I definitely use reading aloud in my classes. For one of my classes, my kids and I read aloud an entire autobiography, and of course they have chapters to read at home each night so that the book doesn't take too long. I have found, if you pick the right book, the students will love to read aloud, and will have a group mentality when tackling the text.

Reasons to read aloud: phonemic awareness, decoding skills, vocabulary skills, comprehension skills, etc. Sure, some kids may be hesitant to read, but I find that as long as the teacher maintains decorum in the classroom, the student will begin to volunteer.

Posted by: jennthehen | April 14, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Pondoora waited until her daughters were 3 to take them to the library? Tsk tsk.

Our little girl turned 2 in December, and has been a library regular (with her own card) since last summer.

Posted by: Ralphinjersey | April 14, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

micheleswarn: No--I was usually one of the top grades (although not in this class), and graduated 4th in my class. This was a high-pressure area, with about 90% of the students going to college, and there was little violence. But almost no one would turn in his or her name as being eligible for the honor roll, and the teachers never got to sit down during awards assemblies because they were too busy squelching hecklers.

Haven't you people been listening to Bill Cosby when he talks about schools where black kids are beaten up by their classmates for doing their homework? It isn't racial--this country has always distrusted anyone intelligent. Why else did George W. Bush, no genius, try to appear even stupider than he was?

(Surprisingly, the teacher who read the grades aloud was a very good teacher, except for this. He eventually became principal, where he was disaster.)

Posted by: sideswiththekids | April 14, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Discussion and repetition is the key

Posted by: SouthernKentuckyMom | April 14, 2010 9:41 PM | Report abuse

So many interesting comments here. Let me add one: sensitivity to auditory learners who are at a disadvantage in our visual-learner dominated schools staffed by teachers who are often also visual learners.

Posted by: proflorraine | April 15, 2010 6:38 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for printing a cool article about reading aloud. I've appreciated reading the comments. I'd like to suggest an excellent book, written for teachers, about this quandry: "Goodbye Round Robin Reading," by Michael Opitz and Timothy Rasinski. I've recommended it to many teachers many times.

Posted by: rdgspecialist | April 16, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, I wrote the title incorrectly (I hate when I do that). Should be: "Good-bye Round Robin".

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