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Readers Theater for Reading Improvement

Cindy McPhail describes how she helped a class of bilingual sixth graders significantly improve their reading comprehension and become more willing to speak in front of the class. See Ayanna Cooper's eferences ! esources review of Reading A-Z, Essential Teacher, September "##$.

Reading aloud in class is often quite stressful for students, especially those who aren't given an opportunity to preread the passages. Peers ay pay attention, !ut perhaps only to !e a!le to catch uch ore attention to the correct y e"perience, this the reader's errors and correct the . As a result, readers pay careful sounding out is acco panied !y a and punctuation, and little sense of word

calling out of words rather than whether the reader is reading with e"pression. #n

onotonous tone, a lac$ of attention to sentence phrasing the phrasing that occurs naturally in oral

eaning. %&hildren who are not fluent read either in a word-!y-

anner or !y grouping words in ways that deviate fro

language% '(orrow, )a !rell, * Pressley, +,,-, p. .-./. 0ral reading !eco es an onerous tas$ for English language learners, one that is the case. ore li$ely to elicit groans than e"cite ent. This need not !e

0ral reading success is often

easured !y reading rate 'Rasins$i, +,,./, !ut speed is not the answer. a$e all the difference. To read with eaning. A great place to start

(any students can successfully say words, !ut have little co prehension '&arrasquillo * Rodrigue1, .223/. Placing an e phasis on e"pressive reading can e"pression, a student is !y using dialogues found in authentic literature. ust !e a!le to accurately interpret an author's

Planning for Improvement

# recently had an opportunity to i ple ent a

odified reader's theater strategy with a class of id third grade. a

!ilingual si"th graders for .. wee$s. The average reading level for the class was

Rather than using preconstructed scripts devoid of the writing conventions of narrative te"ts, instruction started with overhead pro4ector displays of dialogues that had !een photocopied fro !oo$ that the class was reading5 %ime &arp %rio' (nights of the (itchen %able '6cies1$a, .22.7 this technique was later applied to !oo$s !y (ohr, .282, and 6achar, .229/. As a whole group, we read through the dialogue, circling quotation and what they are saying; ar$s and highlighting the words that were spo$en !y each character. This was done in an effort to answer the question5 :ow do we $now who the spea$ers are

<e"t, the class was divided into s all groups. # narrated all portions of the te"t that weren't spo$en !y a character. =i$e an orchestra conductor, # then signaled to the groups to start reading aloud, with each group reading portions of the te"t associated with a particular character. The opportunity to preread the passages and the choral reading provided a safety net for reluctant readers. #t also proved

that we needed an answer to the question5 >hen we read aloud together, what are so e ways to help us stay together; This naturally led to the need to pay attention to punctuation and phrasing in order to have the groups appropriately start, stop, and pause while reading aloud together.

>e then wor$ed on responding to another question5 >hat are so e clues that the author gives us for how to use our voices when we read aloud; ?ra a e"ercises helped illustrate how the use of tone, volu e, stress, and rate of speech can change depending on situational conte"t. 6tudents then highlighted punctuation ar$s 'e.g., e"cla ation points, question ar$s/ and italics while focusing on the conte"t so that they could deter ine appropriate e"pression when reading passages aloud.

Eventually, the class was divided into s aller ense !le groups in which each student individually read the dialogue for a particular character in an assigned passage of the te"t. 6tudents underlined their own character's speech and analy1ed how they would read the words aloud. They used conte"t and writing conventions to identify the spea$ers in a te"t and found that a spea$er was spea$ing and how the speech ight sound. ight utter ore than one sentence in a paragraph. 6tudents needed to use inference and careful analysis to deter ine who

From Choral to Individual

@y the end of the .. wee$s, students had

oved fro

whole-group choral readings, to s all-group the te"ts. 0ver the course

readings, and finally to independently reading self-selected passages fro

of the instruction, they received feed!ac$ in a variety of ways. 6 all-group and individual readings were recorded and played !ac$ so that students could hear the selves. They were encouraged to perfor their readings for their class ates, who would then provide positive feed!ac$, noting which odeling and analysis of what constituted effective, e"pressive reading. sections were particularly well read and why. This positive critique provided an e"cellent feed!ac$ loop for students with !oth

Making a Difference

To deter ine whether the instruction Rasins$i '.22./. The ranging fro

ade a difference, !efore and after recordings were odified fro

ade of

students' oral readings. The readings were rated using ru!rics . to 8. The ratings significantly i proved fro

those !y Zutell and

odified ru!rics assessed phrasingAs oothness and e"pression, with scores the earlier to the later readings.

6tudents' reading co prehension was assessed in a pre- and poststudy

anner via ?evelop ental

Reading Assess ents B-9 '?RAs/ that were routinely ad inistered three ti es a year at the school. The ?RA calculates a holistic score indicating the grade level of a student's reading a!ilities. <ot only was the growth in students' scores significant '.C.C2 points, which is an i prove ent of

appro"i ately a grade and a half in reading levels/, the growth was significantly higher than the sa e teacher's class fro the previous year. @oth groups had !een co paratively the sa e at the start of teacher the school year. @ut the previous class had increased !y 9.B points 'or appro"i ately four-fifths of one year's reading level/, which was significantly less than this year's growth. The classroo 6he told hi laughingly told the story of how the principal called her down to his office to as$, %>hat did you do;% that she attri!uted the difference to the focused attention on e"pressive reading.

&uriously, the reading rate 'as defined in its si plest for 5 speed/ did not change over ti e. This leads to the conclusion that educators should !e cautious a!out interpreting reading rate as an indicator of eaningfully fluent reading. Rather than focusing on speed, placing e phasis on ore eaningful a$ing reading an e"pressive, dyna ic, and socially interactive e"perience leads to interpretations of te"t, which in turn encourages greater co prehension.

Perhaps the


eaningful result fro

i ple enting the

odified reader's theater technique was teacher indicated that at the

the students' willingness to spea$ in front of the class. The classroo group. @ut after their positive e"periences with the

start of the year the group had !een particularly quiet and reluctant to spea$, especially in front of a odified reader's theater technique, laughter and applause welco ed students to try out their newfound voices.

References &arrasquillo, A., * Rodrigue1, D. '.223/. )anguage minority students in the mainstream classroom . Philadelphia5 (ultilingual (atters. (ohr, <. '.282/. *elita. <ew Eor$5 Penguin. (orrow, =., )a !rell, =., * Pressley, (. '+,,-/. +est practices in literacy instruction '+nd ed./. <ew Eor$5 )uilford Press. Rasins$i, T. '+,,./. *rom phonics to fluency' ,ffective teaching of decoding and reading fluency in the elementary school. <ew Eor$5 =ong an. 6achar, =. '.229/. -oles. <ew Eor$5 Eearling. 6cies1$a, F. '.22./. %ime warp trio' (nights of the kitchen table . <ew Eor$5 Penguin. Zutell, F., * Rasins$i, T. D. '.22./. Training teachers to attend to their studentsGH oral reading fluency. %heory .nto Practice/ 0#/ +..GI+.8.

Cindy McPhail 1cmcphai"2na3.edu4 is an associate professor and chair of the )anguage/ )iteracy/ and %echnology 5epartment at 6a3areth College/ in ochester/ 6ew 7ork/ in the 8nited States.