About Toni McCray

Toni McCray has been teaching urban first graders for 9 years with Memphis City Schools. She is a native of the Memphis area .

What was your reading instruction like in grade school?  If you are anything like me, you remember participating in these lengthy oral readings of the weekly text where each student read a paragraph aloud.  Most of the time, you went in order – straight down the row, a method commonly referred to as the Round Robin.  Or if your teacher was really tricky, you would do the Popcorn Method, where each student would be responsible for reading a paragraph but you didn’t know whose turn was next.

If you were intelligent (like me), you would count the number of students in front of you and find your paragraph.  Or after your paragraph was read, you would disengage and daydream about lunch or recess.  If  you were a struggling reader, your options were limited but you stayed quiet not to draw attention to yourself.  The possibility of having to read aloud in front of everyone  would be a terrifying part of the day.

All the while, the teacher is thinking she led an effective reading lesson with all students engaged and on task.  Boy, was she wrong – so very wrong.  I’m hoping that most of us know these two antiquated methods (Round Robin and Popcorn Method) are a “no-no” for any reading teacher that is trying to effectively reach struggling readers.  Despite knowing the difference, I will walk by an occasional classroom in my building and hear this going on.  I am wondering do they know or do they not care.  I’m hoping it is the former.

One-on-one reading instruction would be ideal but we all know that this is not realistic in our classrooms of 25 (plus) children with various behavioral and academic problems.  So whether you are teaching whole group or small group, the challenge is ensuring that all students are learning skills that will make them better readers.  To get the most bang for your instruction buck, I suggest two simple ways to effectively lead whole group or small group reading with all students engaged and on task – echo reading and choral reading.  When using these strategies there will be no more daydreaming about lunch and recess during the lesson.

These two strategies are effective and will increase confidence in any reader.

1. Echo Reading is exactly how it sounds.  Each student has their own copy of the text and echoes or imitates a skilled reader while tracking print from left to right.  This can be done sentence by sentence or phrase by phrase depending on grade level and ability.  This method helps students learn about appropriate fluency (pace) and expression while reading.  Reading too fast or too slow can impede comprehension of the text.  Instead modeling a skilled reader at the appropriate pace will increase comprehension which is the overall goal of reading.  From my experience as a Nationally Board Certified Reading Teacher, students love it -especially the struggling readers.  They will have a newfound confidence when approaching reading and will be more likely to pick up the text again for rereading.

2.Choral Reading is another way to make students active participants in the reading of a text.  This method works for both small group and whole group instruction.  Each student again has their own copy of the text.  This time, however, the students read the text out loud together at the same time.   Instead of the teacher being an active participant in the lesson the  teacher becomes a facilitator in this method.  You read aloud with the students as the dominant reader but you gradually relinquish them into becoming independent readers of the text.   For example, if you are reading a text Monday through Friday (as many of our teacher’s manuals are set up), Monday, you would have the readers echo read.  Tuesday, you would choral read leading as the dominant (loudest) reader.  Wednesday, you will choral read again but this time maybe just starting the sentences and letting them finish or start the paragraph and remain quiet as they finish the paragraph.  By Thursday or Friday, your whole group or small group will be choral reading the text with no need for you to lead at all.

These two methods are a staple in my classroom.  They are simple, yet effective and easy for parents to implement at home.  The best part of all, any one of these methods will work for any student at any reading level in your classroom.  Remember to bring struggling readers on level you have to meet them where they are.

What do you do to help struggling readers in your classroom or home? Do you use similar methods or are you stuck on what to do?

Reading Instruction

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