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What's Really Wrong With Round Robin Reading?

by Melanie R. Kuhn
May 7, 2014

Melanie R. Kuhn
by Melanie R. Kuhn
Boston University
May 7, 2014

What's really wrong with Round Robin Reading?I’ve been asked this question about Round Robin Reading many times and in multiple forms. It is usually accompanied by statements such as: “But my students really like it” or “It helps me cover material that is just too hard for them to read” or “I don’t go in any particular order, so they never know when they are going to have their turn.” In fact, these comments come up so often, that Gwynne Ash, Sharon Walpole, and I asked teachers why they chose to use Round Robin Reading or its variants such as Popcorn, Popsicle, or Combat Reading (2009; Ash & Kuhn, 2006). Our goal was to better understand the perceived pluses of these approaches and identify alternatives that could better meet educators’ instructional goals.

What we found was that the teachers we surveyed believed Round Robin Reading procedures help them accomplish a number of goals. Their reasons ranged from fostering their students’ decoding and fluency to ensuring vocabulary development, text comprehension, and learner engagement. Additionally, the respondents felt that the process contributed to better classroom management. Unfortunately, the problems with these procedures outweigh any perceived advantages (e.g., Allington, 1977, 1980; Ash & Kuhn, 2006; Opitz & Rasinski, 2008).

Key here is the fact that each student is responsible for reading only a very brief portion of the text—as little as a few sentences and, at a maximum, a few paragraphs. As a result, they have minimal opportunity to improve either their fluency or their word recognition. This difficulty is further compounded given the fact that other students often jump in when the reader encounters a difficult or unknown word; as a result, the reader never has the chance to figure it out for him or herself.

It is also the case that breaking up a text into smaller passages actually works against developing fluency; instead of building up students’ reading stamina, it actually limits it. Further, these interruptions discourage comprehension of the material. Rather than looking at the connections that occur across the selection, readers end up focusing their attention on brief passages. And whether or not students know when their turn is coming up, they often read ahead so that they can sound more proficient when their turn comes up—or volunteer “just to get their turn over with”—and then shut down for the rest of the lesson. Clearly, none of these actions contributes to either engagement or improved comprehension.

On the upside, there are alternative procedures that are far more likely to help you meet the above goals. For example, partner reading is a highly effective choice for learners at virtually every grade level (Meisinger, Schwanenflugel, Bradley & Stahl, 2004; Shanahan, 2012). And if you are concerned about engagement or comprehension, you can read aloud with one or two of your students on a rotating basis during your literacy block to make sure they are getting the most out of the experience. Echo and choral reading (Kuhn, 2009) also provide appropriate choices for younger readers, although it is important that the texts they are reading are substantive in terms of both length and challenge. Echo reading involves your reading a few paragraphs to the students followed by their “echoing” the text back as a group while choral reading consists of you and the students reading the selection simultaneously.

And well-known procedures such as Reciprocal Teaching (Oczkus, 2003; Palincsar & Brown, 1986), Directed Reading and Thinking Activity (DRTA; Smyers, 1993; Stauffer & Harrell, 1975) and Reciprocal Teaching Plus (Ash, 2002) can assist students in their comprehension of challenging content.

Also see the comments by Maureen McLaughlin in her President’s Message column in the Reading Today August/September 2013 issue and “A Literacy Spring Cleaning: Sweeping Round Robin Reading Out of Your Classroom” by Katherine Hilden and Jennifer Jones in the Reading Today April/May 2012 issue.

Given the increasing demands on student reading as a result of the Common Core, I believe that these approaches can help you develop effective and easy-to-implement alternatives that truly engage your students while supporting their reading development. I hope you agree.


References

Allington, R. L. (1977).  If they don’t read much, how are they ever going to get good?  Journal of Reading, 21, 57-61.

Allington, R. L.  (1980).  Teacher interruption behaviors during primary grade oral reading.  Journal of Educational Psychology, 72, 371-377.

Ash, G. E., & Kuhn, M. R.  (2006).  Meaningful oral and silent reading in the elementary and middle school classroom: Breaking the Round Robin Reading addiction.  In T. Rasinski, C. Blachowicz, & K. Lems (Eds.), Fluency instruction: Research-based best practices.  (pp. 155-172).  New York:  The Guilford Press.

Ash, G.E., Kuhn, M.R., & Walpole, S.  (2009). Analyzing “inconsistencies” in practice: Teachers’ continued use of Round Robin Reading.  Reading and Writing Quarterly, 25, 87-103.

Kuhn, M.R. (2009). The hows and whys of fluency instruction.   Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Meisinger, E. B., Schwanenflugel, P. J., Bradley, B. A., & Stahl, S. A. (2004). Interaction quality during partner reading. Journal of Literacy Research, 36, 111-140.

Oczkus, L.D. (2010). Reciprocal teaching at work: Powerful strategies and lessons for improving reading comprehension 2nd ed. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Opitz, M.F., & Rasinski, T.V. (2008). Good-bye round robin: 25 effective oral reading strategies. Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann.

Palinscar, A.S., & Brown, A.L. (1986). Interactive teaching to promote independent learning from text. Reading Teacher, 39, 771-777.

Shanahan, T. (2012). Developing fluency in the context of effective literacy instruction. In T. Rasinski, C. Blachowicz, & K. Lems (Eds.), Fluency instruction: Research-based best practices. (2nd, ed., pp. 17-34). New York: Guilford Press.

Smyers, T. (1993). Add SQ to the DRTA and write. In M.W. Olson & S. P. Homan (Eds.), Teacher to teacher: Strategies for the elementary classroom. Newark, DE: IRA.

Stauffer, RG. & Harrell, M.M. (1975).  Individualizing reading-thinking activities. The Reading Teacher, 28, 8, 765-769.


This article is from the International Reading Association’s Literacy Research Panel. Reader response is welcomed. E-mail your comments to LRP@reading.org.

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