Friday, February 18, 2011

Popcorn Reading

Back in 1992, all movie theaters cooked their popcorn in coconut oil. As movie goers, we devoured it by the bag—buckets even—unaware that as we ate, we ingested 37 grams of saturated fat.

Did you catch that? I said thirty-seven grams of fat.

If you ate eggs and bacon for breakfast, a Big Mac and fries for lunch, and topped it off with a steak with a side of baked potato with butter and sour cream, you’d ingest slightly less than 37 grams of fat. So, you see, thirty-seven grams of fat is bad. Really bad. And when people began realizing HOW bad bad was, there was public outrage. Movie theaters had no choice. They had to abandon the coconut oil and switch to something better.

You might be wondering why I am telling you this story and the reason is simple. Literacy has a “popcorn” problem: You might recognize it from your own education…or possibly, even from your own teaching. It looks a lot like this:

“Boys and girls, today we are going to read from our Social Studies textbook about World War II. Please open your book to page 56. Who would like to begin reading aloud? …Great job, Billy. Thomas, were you paying attention? I want you to continue reading. Kathy get ready, you’re next.”

Sound familiar? This practice has many variations but the bottom line is this: whether you popcorn around the room or pick sticks out of a jar, it’s all round robin reading. And like popcorn cooked in coconut oil, there are alarming problems inherent in this practice. It puts children on the spot, asks them to perform without practicing, it can be demeaning and demoralizing, but most of all, it severely limits the amount of practice kids get ACTUALLY reading. Oral reading rates are by nature slower than silent reading rates which means that when a text is read aloud, you are not going to read as much in the same amount of time as you would if you read it silently in your head. During round robin reading, the average turn lasts about one minute and between the time a child reads aloud and attentively reads along with the other children as they take their turns, they read for about six minutes. Six measly minutes.

So, like popcorn cooked in coconut oil, round robin reading is bad. Really bad. We need to feel the same public outrage and demand something better.

The question this leaves us with is this: When we want our students to come together around a text, what are our options? What other choices do teachers have besides taking turns listening to children read sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph?

1 comment:

Laurie Diamond said...

Thirty seven grams of fat! That is horrifying! Seriously, I know that's not the main point. I agree that popcorn reading is problematic. It is demeaning to kids who struggle and it's hard for other students to focus. There are so many better ways--partner reading, independent reading, taking the part of a character, etc. I do love Readers' Theater and I wish other teachers would do it more. I'm curious to hear other teachers' ideas for an alternative to popcorn.