Teaching, No Greater Call: Death to Reading Scriptures “Round Robin” Style
Guest Post by Naomi Watkins
Naomi Watkins is an educational and instructional leader, community builder, and women’s advocate. She is the cofounder of Aspiring Mormon Women and teaches and coaches teachers about adolescent literacy and language instruction. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Utah in Literacy and enjoys cheeseburgers, the outdoors, hiking, traveling, reading, and architecture.
When I teach my aspiring teachers the do’s and don’ts of reading instruction, I rail pretty passionately against a popular practice called “Round Robin Reading” where students read orally from a common text, one student after another, each taking a paragraph or verse, while the rest of the class follows along in their own copies of the text.
We’ve all participated in this practice as students, and maybe even employed it as teachers. Perhaps we’ve used it as a teacher because we’ve seen it modeled so many times. We view it as “what teachers do,” particularly in a church setting when we know that students have most likely not completed the lesson’s reading before class.
Educational researchers and practitioners have denounced this practice for decades. No study has found that Round Robin Reading has any benefit for students outside of creating an appearance of on-task behavior and superficial engagement. And while I know that our purpose as teachers in church classrooms is not to improve students’ overall reading comprehension skills, it should be our objective to assist students in how to use scriptural texts as a basis for discussion, connection, inspiration, and further exploration.
A few reasons why Round Robin Reading needs to die in our church classrooms:
First, as I stated above, this technique does little to support comprehension. In classrooms, it is often used as a way to “get through the text” and provides the appearance of students who are on task, paying attention, and actively reading. If students do not have adequate reading skills to comprehend scriptural texts, reading aloud and listening to others reading aloud will not necessarily help them better comprehend the text—particularly complex scriptural texts.
Second, this practice assumes that we all come to the church classroom with similar literacy and language skills and experiences. It assumes that we are all competent and fluent readers of scriptural texts, and that we all are literate in the same primary language. For many people, reading aloud without prior practice in front of a group causes anxiety and discomfort, particularly if they struggle with reading fluently or have not had positive experiences with reading. I have known people to leave classes so as to avoid reading aloud. It’s one thing to ask for volunteers to read; it’s another to just blanket assign people to read aloud.
Third, Round Robin Reading is not very engaging. When I hear, “Let’s each take a verse and read it aloud,” I immediately count the number of people ahead of me in my row, see how many verses we will have to read, and then, I am glad when I realize that I either have a short verse or we’ll run out of verses before it is my turn to read. Admittedly, I tune out the reading until it’s my time comes to read my verse or I silently skim the verses on my own. And when I look around the classroom, I can see that I am not alone.
Instead, consider the following suggestions and alternatives to reading texts as a class. Please note that with any of these suggestions, the focus is on promoting quality discussion of text rather than covering a large quantity of text. Also, these suggestions do not teach or show students how to draw conclusions or make connections from text.
Always set a purpose for reading. Setting a purpose for the reading prior to doing the reading is incredibly important as it focuses our attention as readers. Frequently, I observe church teachers ask someone to read some verses aloud, and then, after the reading, ask a question. Then, the reader and class members often have to refer back to the text for an answer. Instead, it would be best to first explain what students will need to do with the information gleaned from the text, and then, have students read. Setting this purpose might be a directive like, “Today we are going examine the effects of the Fall, as we read these verses, look for these effects and then, consider how these effects affect your own life.”
Provide a short silent reading time. I realize that for many teachers a silent classroom can create anxiety, but I do think there is value in providing even 5 minutes at the beginning of class for students to silently skim over the selected verses or chapters of the lesson. If I want to provide my students with a bit more structure to their “skimming,” I have them use an approach called SQP2rs: Students survey the text, think of questions they may find answers to, state three predictions of what they may learn, read the text, try to answer their questions, and then summarize. I have found that discussions are deeper and richer when students have had a moment to personally reacquaint themselves with a scriptural story or specific verses. We could all use more devoted moments to ponder and to do so with a collective purpose.
Use Read-Pair-Share. Have students read the verses or section silently, then discuss their thoughts with a partner. If some students may have trouble comprehending the text on their own, pair them with another student who can help them navigate the text or provide a short summary of the verses or section.
Break students into Jigsaw groups. Jigsaw requires two rounds of student grouping. In the first grouping, each group is given a different chunk of text. Students can read silently or as a group, and they are charged with learning specific information or responding to specified questions. Then, students are reassembled into new groups that comprise one member from each of the first group sets. In these second groups, each “expert” teaches her or his information to the new group. The task of the second group is to compile all information from the various parts of the text so that students get the complete idea of the text. You may even consider challenging students to develop a six-word summary of their sections similar to six-word memoirs prior to sharing in their second grouping.
Turn the classroom into a theater. Does the text focus on a story rather than a principle? Then, have class members perform the story for the class with dialogue they have been able to rehearse previously. I realize that some adults may be reticent to a readers’ theater, but honestly, Gospel Doctrine could use a bit more humor and play.
Do you want students to do a close reading of a verse? Or do you want them to make bigger connections across chunks of verses or sections? Do you want them to compare and contrast two scriptural stories? The objective and purpose should help decide which instructional method(s) to select. Ultimately, however, our goal as teachers should be to create church classrooms full of engaging discussions based on scriptural texts where all class members feel comfortable to participate fully—and Round Robin Reading defeats that objective.