Revisiting Silent Reading: New Directions for Teachers and Researchers (International Reading Association Institute #6, Chicago 2010): Part Four

photo of Allington & McGill-Franzen

Allington & McGill-Franzen



This is part four of my reflections on the International Reading Association’s Institute called, “Revisiting Silent Reading: New Directions for Teachers and Researchers” that was held in Chicago on April 25, 2010. You can find part one here. In that part, I discussed the presentations from P. David Pearson and Susie Goodin; D. Ray Reutzel; and Kathleen Wilson. You can find part two here. In that part, I discussed the presentation from S. Jay Samuels titled, “Movements and Reading: Without them you cannot read.” You can find part three here. In that part, I discussed Devon Brenner’s presentation, “Increasing eyes on text in high-impact schools.”

After Brenner’s presentation, Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen presented, “Why so much oral reading in reading lessons & elsewhere?” If you have ever heard Allington speak, you know he talks very fast and normally does not give a handout. My notes from this presentation are messy and may have some inaccuracies. Here are some interesting points (many of which I have heard/read before):

  • We need to get rid of round robin reading practices. They are still prevalent.

  • In 1910, only 10% of the population graduated from high school. Fewer than 50% completed 8th grade.

  • Silent reading was seen as anti-social.

  • In 1917, Gray wrote a piece stating that silent reading should become the primary reading method.

  • Thorndike knew that lots of kids could bark at print, but they could not comprehend.
  • Note: I often quoted the title of one of Thorndike’s papers without having read it because I was unable to access it. Actually, I quoted it as, “Reading is Thinking.” Well, by researching, “Thorndike” on the Internet today, I found that paper and read it. It is great read. By clicking on the following link, you can access it yourself in many different forms (see the top left hand side of the web page), “Reading as Reasoning: A Study of Mistakes in Paragraph Reading.” (Thorndike, 1917) What a great find!!!! (I added it to the sidebars.)

    The last page of “Reading as Reasoning,” talks about how Thorndike thought silent reading should replace oral reading. After reading this, I looked back at my notes and realized that either my notes were wrong, or both Gray & Thorndike wrote a paper in 1917 advocating silent reading. Being the TWRCr that I am, I could not resist doing a little research to find out. Sure enough, I ran across a paper that says Gray advocated silent reading in 1917, too. This paper comes from an International Reading Association Special Interest Group called, “History of Reading.” The paper is very long, but very interesting, too. If you are interested, you can read all about, “A Short History of United States’ Reading Research and Instruction: 1900 to 2006″ here.

  • The non-oral reading method (which I talked about in part 1) was around in the 1930s–students and teachers never read aloud.

  • Why is there so much oral reading–especially for struggling students all the way to high school? Doing seatwork and workbook pages is not the same as silent reading.

  • Oral reading seems to dominate instruction for students with learning disabilities and in Title I classrooms.

  • DIBELS has been adopted by 39 states without any independent evidence of its efficacy. The test doesn’t test anything that is worth knowing. The focus on rate and accuracy focused teachers on getting kids to “bark at print fast.” (Allington credits Samuels with this phrase)

  • Students cannot cross-check when they attempt to read nonsense words.

  • Teachers interrupt struggling readers to correct them more often than they interrupt good readers. Struggling readers are interrupted on 4 out of 5 words while good readers are only interrupted on 1 out of 5 words. Struggling readers are often interrupted before they even get to the second letter. This fosters word-by-word reading, not fluent reading. The more students are interrupted, the more their error rate increases dramatically. Readers should be given time to reflect and revise.

  • It is impossible to read decodable texts with fluency and they make very little sense.

  • Corrective Reading was designed in the 1960s so that readers were unable to use context or pictures to help read unfamiliar words. It is now owned by McGraw Hill, so it is “scientific.”


Thinking about Allington & McGill Franzen’s presentation title, “Why so much oral reading in reading lessons & elsewhere” along with everything else I heard throughout the institute, I think there is currently more oral reading (especially for struggling students) because it is easier to assess and because the National Reading Panel includes fluency as one of the five pillars of reading instruction. Furthermore, the NRP’s definition of fluency includes the word “expression” which cannot be assessed when a student reads silently. I think with researchers beginning to focus on assessing silent reading more, the times will change. However, considering the fact that researchers have been advocating for more silent reading in the classrooms since the early 1900s, this change seems extremely slow. I find it so hard to believe that Round Robin reading is still prevalent! One teacher even mentioned to Allington that, “I know the research says Round Robin reading isn’t good, but it’s effective for me. It lets me monitor progress.” His thoughts were that, “Yeah, it’s effective. Effective at keeping the teacher in charge.”

I admit that I include oral reading (yes, maybe even too much) when I work with struggling readers. Once I finish writing up my thoughts and notes from the convention, I plan to write more about my work with struggling readers. I am confident in much of what I do, but I often question my use of time because Allington’s voice is always in my head saying, “Struggling readers do not actually read enough in remedial reading classes.” On the other hand, I have read so much research about the many areas in reading where readers struggle and when I work with struggling readers, I find that it is true. I guess this is part of why I love to teach reading and why it can be frustrating all at the same time–there is just so much to think about and consider. I also plan to write about teachers interrupting students while they try to decode. I hope you will share your thoughts–then or now. I would also love to know if you know someone who is still using round robin (or popcorn) reading in the classroom and why.

I didn’t really expect that writing about the convention would take me so long, but it does seem to be going slowly. I am not complaining because I am learning more as I write it up, but I worry that my readers will think that all I will write about is the research. I really want this blog to be helpful to parents, teachers, students, and reading researchers. If you have any questions you would like me to talk about, please let me know on the “Ask Julie” tab. If I don’t hear from you, I will continue on as I have been. Thank you for joining me on my journey.

You can find part five here.

**Updated 8/19/2010: Click here to find all presentation handouts from this institute at http://www.textproject.org.**

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