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Popcorn Is for Eating -- Not Reading

Posted by on in Studentcentricity
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Reading in the classroomPopcorn – or round-robin – reading is a technique that’s probably been used by teachers since there were books and classrooms. The intentions behind it are to increase reading ability, to help students feel comfortable speaking in front of others, and to “catch” students who aren’t paying attention.

I won’t speak to the last of those because it’s beside the point and perhaps a topic for another post. But regarding the first two intentions, it turns out teachers have been wasting their – and their students’ – time with the practice. Moreover, popcorn reading often creates results that are the opposite of what’s intended: a hatred of reading and students who feel humiliated and/or stupid.

So why does the practice continue? Could it be because it’s always been done? That’s never a good enough reason – and certainly not when there’s so much research determining that it’s ineffective and even harmful. There are also wonderful alternatives to the practice! You’ll find several listed in these two articles from Todd Finley and Julie Adams:

“11 Alternatives to ‘Round Robin’ (and ‘Popcorn’) Reading”: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/alternatives-to-round-robin-reading-todd-finley

“Just Say ‘No’ to Popcorn Reading”: http://www.effectiveteachingpd.com/blog/2012/11/20/just-say-no-to-popcorn-reading.html

Todd Finley asserts

Our curriculum should be driven by student needs, not what is convenient for teachers. RRR ultimately is an activity that is part of a small repertoire of practices that teachers of all content areas recycle throughout a semester. It is incumbent upon us to let go of what research tells us are outmoded practices and replace them with richer alternatives. 21st century classroom routines should not look like those classrooms from the antebellum era because the skills of contemporary adults have changed.

For education to advance, we need teachers to aggressively experiment with new literacy approaches that authentically approximate those used in the real world. Round Robin Reading does not belong in a progressive classroom. 

Julie Adams adds

The young brain craves a few things: socialization, pleasure, safe environment, movement, and a desire to hear his/her own voice.  Knowing this, when educators incorporate social and low-stress reading techniques such as Choral, Echo, 4 Corner or Partner Reading, students are more inclined to enjoy them and benefit.  

Round Robin Reading when used as a management or disciplinary tool, is neither pleasurable nor social; it's just plain intimidating and nerve-racking. Reading is a necessary skill that must be practiced consistently to be mastered. When teachers incorporate a variety of read-aloud strategies into their instruction, student enjoyment, comprehension and fluency increase.  What teacher doesn't want that?

Here’s the article I came across the prompted me to schedule a radio interview on the topic. After reading the piece and listening to the discussion, I wonder if any teacher would still believe popcorn reading is a good idea.


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Rae Pica has been an education consultant specializing in the development and education of the whole child, children's physical activity, and active learning since 1980. A former adjunct instructor with the University of New Hampshire, she is the author of 19 books, including the text Experiences in Movement and Music and, most recently, What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children's Lives. Rae has shared her expertise with such groups as the Sesame Street Research Department, the Head Start Bureau, Centers for Disease Control, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues, Gymboree, Nike, and state health departments throughout the country. She is a member of the executive committee of the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences and is co-founder of BAM Radio Network, where she hosts Studentcentricity, interviewing experts in education, child development, play research, the neurosciences, and more on teaching with students at the center.

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Guest Wednesday, 26 October 2016