Implementing Assisted Reading
Ways you can use oral assisted reading to provide an assist or scaffolding for students in grade 1 and beyond to move them toward independence and fluency in reading. These ideas are particularly helpful for struggling readers who have yet to achieve a level of independence that is essential to their progress in reading.
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2
Assisted reading comes in a variety of effective forms. The ones you choose depend on your style of teaching and the needs of your students. Nearly any type of text can be used for assisted reading. As you encounter books, magazines, and other materials, ask yourself how you might use them for a particular form of assisted reading. For some forms, such as paired reading, consider allowing students to choose the text.
Assisted reading can also be done in a variety of settings—as part of a direct instructional routine, during independent reading time, as a center activity, as an opening activity at the beginning of the day or right after lunch, as an end-of-the day activity, during read aloud, as a home involvement program, as an essential part of a summer reading program, and so on.
Choral reading, where groups of children read the same text aloud, is one of the most common forms of reading in the primary grades. It is a great way to maximize the amount of reading done per child. (Twenty children reading a 20-line page of text in unison certainly results in more reading per child than one child reading one line of the text, one at a time!)
Choral reading is also a wonderful way to build community in the classroom. For example, each morning as students read and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, they are declaring their unity as a community of learners. This routine also provides support for those students who are not yet fluent readers.
In Carol Tesh’s third-grade class, students read chorally at least one new poem, song, or other lyrical text each day, as well as several familiar texts they’ve previously read. Carol writes the poems and songs on chart paper so that all students can see the text and invites children to read the words on their own at various times during the day: at the opening of the school day, before morning recess, at transition times, after lunch, and before the end of the day. According to Carol, “Coming together to read in unison throughout the day reinforces the fact that we are a team and we need to work together, whether it’s in reading, in writing, on the playground, or wherever.”
Carol has noticed that during choral reading, even her most severe strugglers can read. “They seem to get the cue from the other readers in the class. We’ll read a poem once, twice, three times a day or even more. And each time we read, their voices get stronger and more confident. Even the children who have the most difficult time in reading can read by the third time through. After listening to their classmates read, and then reading while listening to their classmates read, many struggling students come up to me near the end of the day and read the poem out loud on their own.” Clearly, these students are benefiting from the support of Carol and their classmates.
David Paige (2008, 2009) studied the use of whole-class choral reading in middle school classrooms in an urban school district. Students chorally read a different passage each day (less than five minutes per day) from the district-mandated science textbook or a narrative passage from the district-mandated literature book. The choral reading appeared to be particularly helpful for improving the reading performance of struggling readers. Students themselves thought that the choral reading was a good way to practice reading because it allowed them the opportunity to read aloud with support from the teacher without suffering peer ridicule.
Neurological Impress Method
Neurological Impress Method is a form of assisted oral reading that has some similarities with choral reading (Heckelman, 1969). In NIM, a student reads orally and simultaneously with a partner who acts as a tutor. Ideally, the text is at the student’s instructional reading level and relates to a personal interest or school subject. The more proficient partner, reading slightly faster and louder than the student, makes a conscious effort to direct his or her voice into the student’s left ear to “imprint” a sound-symbol match in his or her head. Reading one-on-one this way can be intense for students, so initial NIM sessions should be kept to just a few minutes. Even over time, most sessions should last no longer than 15 minutes.
Research into NIM (Heckelman, 1969) reports some spectacular gains. One student, for example, made a gain in reading of nearly six grade levels after doing NIM with a tutor for seven and a quarter hours over a six-week period (approximately five 15-minute sessions per week for six weeks). Twenty-four students made an average gain of nearly two grades levels over the same period of time.
Paired reading is essentially a form of choral reading done by a pair of readers, usually one more proficient than the other. To me, it is a friendlier version of Neurological Impress Method reading. Rather than reading into someone’s ear, in paired reading students (or mentor and student) read together side by side, with one gently “pushing” the other along. It is also known as “duolog reading” to distinguish it from other forms of partner reading, such as buddy reading, in which students alternate lines, paragraphs, or pages. The pair can be made up of the following groupings:
• parent and child
• teacher and child
• teacher aide or classroom volunteer and child
• older student and child
• two children at the same grade level, where there is some differential in reading proficiency
Paired reading was first described and used by Keith Topping (1987a, 1987b, 1989) as a form of tutoring between parent and child. However, heand others found that it could be easily adapted for other purposes, including classroom instruction.
Audio Recorded Reading
If you think paired reading or Neurological Impress Method reading is a good idea but don’t have volunteers in the classroom, adequate support from home, or enough time for yourself to make it happen, try recorded reading. Give students books and other reading materials on audiotape or a CD and allow them to listen on their own while reading a print version of the text.
Carol Chomsky (1976) worked with an approach for teaching reading that involved the assisted and repeated reading of texts. Chomsky asked struggling readers to practice reading passages while simultaneously listening to audiorecorded versions of the same passage read fluently until the students could read the passage without assistance. Students in this intervention made remarkable progress not only on the passages they practiced but also on new passages they’d never before read. Moreover, Chomsky reported that students demonstrated improvements in their confidence in and attitude toward reading.
Marie Carbo calls her adaptation of this approach “talking books” and has employed it with struggling readers for several years. She demonstrated that students who read aloud a book while listening to it on tape made strong gains in reading (1978a, 1978b, 1981), well beyond what she expected based on their previous progress in reading. In one study from New Zealand (Smith & Elley, 1997), students who read and listened repeatedly to high-interest stories on tape until they felt they could read them successfully on their own made an average gain of 2.2 years in reading achievement, after participating in the study for about 27 weeks, or three-quarters of a school year. That’s three times the gain expected of normally developing readers, yet these students were struggling! Moreover, students who participated in this study maintained their gain over the course of a two-month summer break. Students who couldn’t read fluently were able to do so, with the help of stories on tape.
Other studies have found that giving audio-recorded reading materials to English language learners (ELL), students for whom English is not their first language (Koskinen et. al, 1999), for independent practice holds great promise. In the Koskinen study, most ELL students reported that they practiced almost daily reading with the books and tapes. Moreover, the least proficient ELL readers were most likely to use the pre-recorded materials to practice and improve their reading at home.
When assigning recorded readings, be sure to remind students to read the text (track the words visually) as they listen. Otherwise they will gain very little from the activity. If students are not following along visually, they may enjoy listening to the material read to them, but since they are not actually reading, little if any growth in reading will occur.
Fourth-grade teacher Lorraine Griffith was concerned that many of her students were not actually reading during sustained silent reading (SSR) time, but rather were just browsing through books they selected, chatting with friends, or were otherwise off task. So, recognizing that reading is largely a social activity, she replaced SSR with a buddy reading program.
In buddy reading, students at similar reading levels are paired up for about 20 to 30 minutes per session. Each pair chooses a book or other reading material. From there, students negotiate how they will orally read the text together. Some pairs alternate pages, others read chorally, as in paired reading, some read and reread one page at a time in echo fashion, and others try a combination of methods.
Lorraine encourages pairs to stop reading periodically, talk about what they have read, and ask questions of each other—especially when one student is having difficulty understanding the text. At the end of the session, buddies determine which pages in their shared book they will read at home that night, so they continue the reading silently and independently. Moreover, coordinating home reading makes each student feel responsible to his or her partner.
Lorraine feels that buddy reading leads to more reading, both in school and at home. “It really helps students see that reading is a social activity and creates some continuity between school and home reading.” She also feels that it helps her keep track of her students’ reading and engage in more meaningful reading conferences. “When I hear them reading aloud, I have a better sense of the content they are covering, and it is easier for me to chat with them about their books.”
For more about fluency, including lessons, strategies, and ideas, see Your Complete Guide to Reading Fluency .