Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Extending Readers Theatre

Sheri Vasinda and Julie McLeod explore how adding podcasting to Readers Theatre impacts reading in their article, Extending Readers Theatre: A Powerful and Purposeful Match with Podcasting, from The Reading Teacher 64(7). They worked with classes of second and third graders from three different suburban Texan schools. Within these classes 35 out of approximately 100 students were identified as struggling readers- reading levels at least one grade below the class.

Podcasting was selected as the technology to explore because of its match to Readers Theater. Readers Theater is an aural interpretation of a reading and podcasts only record voices. Keeping the goal as an oral presentation without props, costumes or sets enables the focus to remain on reading and reduces the time commitment per script. Students spent approximately 15 minutes per day practicing their scripts with their peers. Since the authors mentioned having two copies per student, one for home and one for school, we must presume that students were also expected to practice on their own at home. Student presentations were available online for parents and the students themselves to listen to at convenient times.

Over the ten week intervention, struggling students averaged over a year of reading growth. This is remarkable progress for students who were not on track to begin with. What the authors fail to discuss is the students who did not make such growth. (The graphic data display may have simplified results to reflect growth in terms of half year increments.) According to the graph, five students did not improve at all. Are these the students with significant disabilities, English Language Learners, or students with attendance problems? Are these students who did not practice at home? Delving deeply into these students' failure to respond could provide essential information for improving their reading skills. Additionally five students improved only half a year. Would these students plateau, accelerate their growth or remain steady at that level of growth if the intervention were extended beyond ten weeks? Are these students with mild learning problems? Did they have poor foundational reading instruction and experiences? Understanding what was different between those who made limited progress and the four students who made three years of growth could be valuable in adjusting reading instruction as well. We also do not have the results from how the rest of the students fared. Did they similarly make significant growth? Did the advanced readers enjoy but make limited advancement? Did the quality of fluency as measured by rate, phrasing and expression increase in non-readers theater activities?

With the inclusion of individual student pre- and post-intervention scores, we can see that the majority (86%) of struggling readers made remarkable growth likely to advance them to the point of not needing remediation. We can also see that 14% need something different. Without analyzing the reasons that contributed to growth or failure to grow within the study groups, we can only derive limited information: readers theater is a viable tool for providing repeated readings and motivation for improving reading skills of many students. Individual progress, however, needs to be carefully monitored so that if a student does not respond to the intervention, modifications to the reading program can be made.

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