Thursday, February 12, 2009


Round Robin Reading, the whipping boy for every college of education professor and reading specialist, is mis-defined, mis-described, mis-researched, and most tragically mis-blamed.

Round Robin Reading (RRR) is when an authority figure (teacher/parent) has a group, usually in a circle, read out loud in a known order such that the subjects know ahead of time in what order and what portion they will be reading when it is their turn. This is the way most families read scripture together. Each reads a verse or two in order, 'round the room or by age.

The all-knowing and wise stewards of education tell us that this "creates too much emphasis on decoding," which most students get too little of anyway. It "interferes with the development of a nurturing environment by creating a situation that presents great risk to students for embarrassment," which, if it happens, is more a reflection of how the teacher manages the class than of this method of teaching. Assorted and sordid other evils have been assigned RRR as well, which, again, are more reflective of the teacher's style than of RRR itself, such as that it prevents self-correction, is inferior in promoting fluency, and in promoting comprehension.

Let me address these concerns more fully. Thanks to these gurus of education, who gave us whole-language, which almost totally eliminated phonics, grammar, and spelling, we have a generation of students who can't decode and whose writing and spelling can't be understood. I ask, "Will it hurt if we DO emphasize decoding a little more and actually practice word attack skills?" With the so-called "balanced literacy", which was meant to balance whole language and include phonics, we still have too many teachers, who have also been trained to hate RRR, telling their students NOT to "sound out" the words. It is my opinion that we could use more coaching and practice in "authentic" decoding.

RRR is only embarrassing if the teacher creates or allows that climate in the classroom. From decades of experience I can tell you that, providing the teacher does not make it embarrassing, every student loves to read out loud once they have been given the chance to participate in it. After the first week or two, every student in my class wants to read, including those who are below grade level. There is no reason that reading out loud should be made embarrassing. If it is, the teacher has made it so, or has not prevented it from becoming so. It was not the reading before the class that made it embarrassing.

Contrary to the accusations, students love being in the spotlight that reading in front of a group or class gives them. In fact doing so gives them confidence that they are a good reader. One jr. high teacher used to comment that she could pick out the students that came from one particular feeder school because the older faculty there called on students regularly to read out loud in class, and thus they had confidence when they read, enough so that it was noticeable.

If the teacher corrects the student too quickly when they make a mistake, that is a problem the teacher has - not the fact that the student is reading aloud before the group or class. When appropriate, I use certain of those times to teach word attack skills. This makes the phonics training authentic, meaning that it has been done in a setting that has a real application, where the student is more likely to remember the skill or see the value in knowing it.

These sages of pedagogy conclude in their findings-predetermined research that RRR is "inferior to shared reading in promoting fluency, word recognition, and vocabulary acquisition." I ask, "Inferior in what way?" The only thing they place in its stead is "whisper reading (but not in unison or by taking turns) just loud enough for the teacher to listen-in as they read through the text several times," while the teacher attempts to listen in as she is able. Doesn't that sound like something that will inspire the student and keep them engaged in reading? No? Me neither.

When the group or whole class is taking turns reading, particularly in other subjects such as history or science (which is another no-no the ivory towers defame) words can be discussed together giving authentic situations to learn definitions, breakdown of, or etymologies of words as well as sentence and paragraph meaning. Again, it isn't the method, but the teacher that uses or misuses the method that causes success or failure.

The inference about RRR these omniscient pre- and inservice providers of teaching methods give to new teachers is that ANY calling on students to read out loud is RRR. Remember RRR is only when out loud reading is done in a round (where students know who will be called on next). This CAN cause a problem if students are looking ahead to their turn and ignoring the reading being done. This can easily be cured by having a different method of choosing students to read so they don't know who will be reading next. Students also need to have some consequence, if when called on they don't know the next word, meaning they haven't been following along. In that case I give them sleeping time (5 minutes of "sleeping" at their desk at recess for sleeping on the job). It is a small penalty, rarely used, but keeps the students following along. The best part of doing this is that I am teaching reading AND history or science at the same time!

Even pure RRR as defined with its potential problems is not deserving of the vehemence used in vilifying it. However having something to castigate makes the listener more willing to accept what the lecturer is proposing instead. THAT, I submit, is the real reason for the demonizing of RRR. In too many cases these self-proclaimed experts do not really know how to teach reading, so they parrot what others in their own circles say without really finding out themselves.

By calling on students to read out loud before the class regularly in the way I have partially described above, my students always have higher than average value added scores in reading. They make significant progress with DRA scores by January, and they enjoy it without putting an undue burden on the teacher. Castigating RRR is a diversion for not giving due diligence to really finding what will improve reading.


Mark Pennington said...

As a conservative reading specialist, very much disagree. For an analysis of why round robin and popcorn reading are pedagogical flops, visit

ConservativeTeacher said...

When you go to the penningtonpublishing site, it become obvious why Mr. Pennington disagrees with "round robin reading." He is in the business to sell materials and programs for reading - HIS materials and programs. He is using my blog to advertise his products too.

The success or failure of choosing students to read aloud depends on how the teacher does it. Done right, students are not embarrassed and continuity is not lost. Phonics and syllabication can be reinforced. Leveled reading is not nearly that important.

Reading can be taught well without all the expensive programs, complexity, and excessive training. Professors who have to publish or perish and those selling stuff play on sympathies to get educators to buy more and more, evermore complicated, and training-needy programs and materials.

Yet our forefathers read better without any of it. These programs are weighing down our teachers, and by extension our students, keeping them from reading well.