Don’t run!!! I know these are easy go-to reading strategies and are in your comfort zone, but hear me out here! When I first began teaching, these were 100% my go-to strategies, and I thought it was the most efficient and easiest option. However, let’s think about these three reading strategies.
- Popcorn Reading – What happens when you are using popcorn reading EVERY SINGLE TIME? “Ummmm… where are we?” and “Ugh, I just lost my place.” and… you get it! Popcorn reading does not hold the students’ attention at all. They get lost in la-la-land, they doze off (with their unique tricks), and they are only reading when they are called on and told the place. After they read, they’re gone again because, well, their turn is over. At the end of the reading, how much was truly retained? I would be willing to bet a minimal amount.
- Teacher Read-Aloud – How does one get better at a sport? By practicing. How does one get better at singing or dancing? By practicing. How does one get better at math? By practicing. See where I am going here? How does one get better at reading? Exactly! If the teacher is reading aloud to the students, who is doing the work and getting the practice? And who is doing the learning? While it may save time and student “embarrassment” for the teacher to read to the class, the students are not going to become better readers this way. It doesn’t matter what post-reading activity they can do following the text; they are still going to be on the same reading level. Does this mean teachers can never read to their students? Absolutely not. However, know that if you are reading aloud, the students are not getting any better at reading.
- Round-Robin Reading: When starting round-robin reading, what does every student in the room immediately do? Count out the paragraphs until they read. Period. Do they follow along as each student reads? Nope. They, once again, are lost in la-la-land, dozing off (with their unique tricks), and they only start to pay attention when the student in front of them is reading. That’s when they know they have to be ready with paragraph #whatever they counted out at the beginning of the strategy. After they finish reading, they are zoned out again.
I am not trying to burst any bubbles or hurt any feelings here; however, the necessity for students to become better readers depends on us as educators, and we need to seek strategies that work. Have no fear, though! I am about to walk you through my two favorite reading strategies that I have seen work. I have watched students’ lexile reading scores show tremendous improvements, and I genuinely think these two research-based strategies really made a difference.
My school received the Georgia Striving Readers Grant (SRG) and had the opportunity to work with two very well-esteemed individuals, Dr. Sharon Walpole and Dr. Mike McKenna. They are both college professors who established the Bookworms curriculum used in many elementary schools and wrote the books The Literacy Coach’s Handbook, Differentiated Reading Instruction, and Cracking the Common Core. These two work hand-in-hand with the SRG in Georgia and support the recipient schools in leading training and professional development. I was fortunate enough to get to see them speak at four different conferences and to work with them one-on-one in planning a two-day professional development session at our school. At each of these professional learning opportunities, they introduced the two strategies that I am about to introduce to you: PALS and Reciprocal Teaching.
Peer Assisted Learning Strategy (PALS)
PALS is a partner-based strategy that takes approximately 35 minutes. It is easy to incorporate and can be done with almost any text (article, novel, textbook, etc…) in any subject. During PALS, students really get to focus on the processes of reading comprehension. As a grown adult, I felt the benefits of PALS when I tried it for the first time at a conference. I had never realized that I did not retain a word of what I was reading aloud until trying this strategy out for the first time. It was humbling for me, and I know the students benefit from it just as I did. The partners in PALS are pre-determined using lexile scores with the higher score being Partner A. While one partner is reading aloud, the other is coaching him or her by helping with any mistakes and by asking questions when the step calls for it. PALS pairs are supposed to read from the same text, so only one copy is necessary. There are four very specific steps in the PALS process, and for the best results, these steps cannot be changed in any way, so no tweaking.
This strategy is very easy to implement, is free, and only takes about 35 minutes after the students have learned the routines. I designed a literacy block for our entire school, and PALS is the reading strategy every class uses. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, every student in our school participates in PALS during the Literacy Block. It is simply amazing to walk the halls of the school to see every student actively reading. I have had a lot of experience in working with this strategy and have seen the MAJOR successes it leads to. I had students literally writing me thank you cards for helping them become better readers through the introduction of PALS. It is a strategy I will forever stand by!
Next up is Reciprocal Teaching. This strategy is a group strategy that allows for a little more independence than PALS does and can be done with almost any text (article, novel, textbook, etc…) in any subject. After using PALS with all of my students (including my gifted learners), I will then introduce Reciprocal Teaching to add in something new. For this strategy, you will want to chunk the text and have the groups of four are predetermined using lexiles, just as they were in PALS. Each student in the group takes on a different role for each chunk of the text. The steps are easy to follow and after a few practice runs, the students will master each part. The different roles represent the subconscious steps a good reader takes when digging into a text.
Before introducing the Reciprocal Teaching strategy, I would highly recommend you go over the roles with the students ahead of time. I have found this to be a prime opportunity for the Gradual Release System because modeling what each role should look like will help you to get a higher quality work ethic from your students. If students have never had to think like this before while reading, they will not know where to begin in trying on their own.
When planning a lesson where either of these strategies are being used, it is important to begin with a pre-reading strategy and end with a summarizing strategy. You want to lead the students into the text to be read with a bit of background knowledge and a sense of understanding for the vocabulary. This way the students are not getting tied up in understanding the meaning of words and can focus more on taking in what the text is saying. A post-reading strategy should be one that requires the students to use the text to complete. It can be something as simple as a magnet words summary. No matter what you decide to do, make sure the text is the focus.
While these two strategies are my favorites, that does not mean they are the only two that are worth trying out. There are many reading strategies that you can choose from and use with your class; however, please be sure to find one that truly helps our students become better readers. Literacy is the basis for everything, and our students’ futures depend on us helping them to be ready.
If you are interested in learning more about the PALS or Reciprocal Teaching strategy or if you have any questions, please feel free to message me. I am in no way, shape, or form a master at these, but I will gladly help you the best that I can. Also, please feel free to check out my TPT store products on these if interested in some resources and role cards. I genuinely believe these strategies work and have seen student success as a result of them.