Sunday, February 21, 2016

Ideas & Resources for Readers' Theatre

What is Readers' Theatre? 
Do you want to use oral reading without it becoming boring? Try Readers' Theatre! This is a simple method that presents literature in a dramatic form.  It involves oral dramatic reading in groups of one kind or another. You need nothing more than some scripts and a few basic hints about the implementation of the strategy. You can adapt the scripts from stories, obtain many scripts in book form, or download hundreds that are free online (more on this below).

Readers' Theatre allows repeated reading without monotony and boredom. We have known for some time that repeated reading improves fluency and comprehension. The work of LaBerge & Samuels (1974) on automaticity in reading was one of the earliest studies to present evidence for its effectiveness, but in recent times Young & Rasinski, (2009) and Vasinda & McLeod (2011) have reminded us of the benefits in helpful papers. Many teachers have had great results with this simple method in their classrooms. It can be used regularly on a weekly basis (e.g. one day per week) or it can be used intensively for a block of 8-10 weeks. Research suggests that just 10 weeks of Readers' Theatre can lead to significant gains in reading fluency and comprehension.

Key Elements of the Strategy

Above: Children Reading (courtesy of 'Mom It Forward')
#1 - Readers' Theatre does not require any props or costumes, although sometimes children will enjoy having one item to identify their part, such as a hat or simple object or piece of clothing.

#2 - Children can sit in a circle facing one another, sit on stools facing an audience, or secure their script on a clipboard and hold it in one hand allowing them to move their body and make basic gestures as they read dramatically.

#3 - Make sure that all participants have their own script that clearly identifies their character. You might also allow them to underline, add phrase marks, or circle punctuation as appropriate. You can allow children to share a character or you can have multiple narrators to allow greater participation.

#4 - Try to have varied parts, some more demanding, and others less demanding. This allows children of varying abilities (and even ages) to participate together.

#5 - Encourage children to practise their parts before trying to perform as a group.

#6 - A good pattern to use in introducing Readers' Theatre is to spread it over a week. On day 1 hand out the scripts to all children and explain how it works. Some teachers have the whole class working on the same material, but my preference is to see 2-3 groups used, allowing children of varying abilities to be 'stretched'. On day 2 take the groups one at a time for turns reading the script. This is effectively just round robin reading to help familiarise them with the script and story line. On days 3 and 4 allocate characters and practice. Allow children to try different parts in lesson 3 before making final choices. On day 5 perform the plays by each group for the whole class.

#7 - If you need more guidance Laurie Henry has four excellent lesson plans that show how Readers' Theatre can be introduced for the first time (here).

#8 - While literature is most commonly used for Readers' Theatre, poetry, history and biography also work well.

Readers' Theatre Scripts

As I said above, there are many resource books that contain scripts, but there are also hundreds of scripts available FREE and online. Here are some of the best resource sites:  

'Dr Young's Website' with almost 200 scripts (HERE)
'Teaching Heart' has a section on 'Reader's Theater Scripts and Plays' (HERE)
'Aaron Shepard's Free Scripts' (HERE)
'Timeless Teacher' site (HERE)
Some quirky science scripts on 'Adrian Bruce's Free Educational Resources' site (HERE)
'Stories to Grow By' Scripts (HERE)

One of the largest collections of Reader's Theatre scripts is at 'Dr Young's Website' where you'll find almost 200 scripts ready to use at school or at home. Some are simple like 'The Three Billy-Goats Gruff', while other are more complex like 'Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes'. There are some wonderful scripts here including 'Bad Case of Stripes', and classics like 'Chicken Little', 'Cinderella', 'Hansel and Gretel' and the 'Magic Porridge Pot'. Great scripts for children aged 6-10 years.

Aaron Shepard also has some good general tips on Readers' Theatre, including scripting, staging and reading (HERE).

Friday, February 12, 2016

Is School Homework Useful? Or is it a Waste of Time?

I hear two types of complaints about school homework?  

Type 1 - parents complain that their kids don't get enough homework.  
Type 2 - others suggest that the homework that children do get is often a repetition of work at school and that it teaches little.

The question 'Is homework useful?' is never far from conversations between parents about school, or between teachers when discussing parents. Like every teacher I have felt the pressure of parents wanting their children to do more homework. In spite of this I have never been a fan of homework in the primary years of schooling (age 5 to 12 years). Yes, homework does have a place, but not the exalted place that many parents want to give it.

Why you might ask? 

1. Because the vast majority of homework is banal and features drill of things that contribute little to the areas in which we want children to learn. Memorising spelling lists is a case in point (see my previous post HERE) with little contribution being made to the ability to write well.

2. Because school homework is often a substitute for things that are more critical to children's development. For example, play (posts HERE), discovery learning and problem solving (posts HERE), creative expression in varied forms and (dare I say it, rest at day's end).

3. Because it allows society at large to fill the school day with other things that parents have failed to teach their children and simply shift curriculum work to the category of homework, which has to be packaged in bundles that children can complete largely undirected (see #1).

4. Because it reinforces narrow definitions of learning, curriculum and assessment. Homework ends up being simply a test of work done at school, often in the name of practice.

In short, school becomes squeezed by the imperative to test children's learning for public assessment (see related posts HERE), and the hours after school end up being used for largely non-directed and repetitive tasks that help children to pass tests delivered at school.

Is there an alternative? Yes!

Step 1 - Ensure that any after school time whether at home with a parent or carer or in after school care is spent well. Set high standards.

Step 2 - Control access to the things that distract children from rich learning and exploration. I'm thinking of course about 'screen' time (limit daily screen time), computers, gaming and television.

Above: Screen time needs to be controlled, but it can also be a key tool for learning

Step 3 - Apply some simple tests for any after school 'homework'. Does it develop new knowledge and skills? Does it expand repertoires for learning - discovery, imaginative recreation, dialogue, observation etc? Is it enjoyable and challenging?

Step 4 - Make sure that you know what your children are doing, that you monitor it, and that you show genuine interest in what they are doing. 

What might post school time look like?

Hopefully time after school will have a level of planning (kids you need to do X, Y, & Z). Make sure that set agendas like sporting practice, music etc don't shut out everything else.

Start with down time - let them rest, talk to other people about their day, feed them, let them have some time to choose what they do (within predetermined limits).

Incorporate varied activities - some time outside to run around in an unstructured self-directed way; a time for exploration and discovery (this can include reading, viewing, hands on activities like craft drawing, construction etc); a time for school directed homework (I'd limit this in the primary years to no more than five times their age, i.e. thirty minutes aged 6, fifty minutes aged 10 etc); self-directed reading (e.g. HERE, HERE, HERE & HERE); family down time to chat and hang out.

Above: A different type of 'homework'

I understand that the complexity and varied nature of family life will always make after school time 'messy'. But we need to ask ourselves, how messy is it? What negative impact is the messiness having on family life and learning? What can I do to change things?

One thing I am certain of, the solution to the messiness isn't simply to ask schools to set more banal tasks, disconnected from 'real' learning which we police with minimal supervision.

I would love to hear your comments and suggestions.

Other posts

Other posts that address creativity, imagination and play (HERE)

Other posts that address homework alternatives (HERE)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Tips for Parents (& Teachers) in Week 1 of School

In Australia children are returning to school soon and some will be turning up for the first time. There will be many tears, and that's not just the parents and teachers! Yes, there will be anxious children as well. As always, it's a challenging time for everyone. Having received children on their first day at school as a teacher, having sent my own children to school in Kindergarten, and having worried over grandchildren heading off on day one, I have some experience as a worrier! So I thought I'd offer some quick Do's and Don'ts for parents and teachers.



#1 Assume the best of your child's teachers, not the worst. Give them a chance to get to know your child and encourage your child to show them respect.

#2 Try to help teachers understand your child by telling them things that will help (when you have a chance). This might include health issues, fears about school, special interests (help them with points of connection).

#3 Try to get to know some other parents from day one. This will help to give you a small support group, maybe someone to call to see if their child has the school note your child has lost, or to discuss the project work that is due, how the swimming carnival works, are parents expected to attend the school fete or fundraising day etc.

#4 When they get home (especially in the early weeks) let them rest, feed them, & allow them some down time before asking the 20 questions you've stored up.

#5 Pace yourself, there will be MANY years of school. Let your child grow into school, and as a parent try to learn afresh what school is like now compared with when you were at school or when you sent your first two children. 


#1 Don't assume that your child is the only bright kid at school and tell the teacher as much on day 1. EVERY parent thinks their child is gifted. Let your child show their teacher some of the great things they can do.

#2 Don't criticize your child's teacher in front of your child. This will make it harder for your child to respect their teacher.

#3 Don't make comparisons between your child and other children, especially to your child.

#4 Don't hassle teachers from day 1 about homework, allow the year to get rolling before firing such questions at them.

#5 Don't expect the teacher to know your child as well as you do from day 1



My eldest daughter on her first day of school
#1 Be patient with parents, especially those sending their first child to school, especially in the early weeks. This is a tough time for many.

#2 Inform them as soon as you can about your expectations on things like homework, special activities, and your approach to discipline.

#3 Let them know how they can contact you if they have questions. An email address will reduce many fears and DO try to answer them as quickly as possible.

#4 Look for good things in each child. While not all will be brilliant (even though their parents might think they are), there will be things that are worthy of praise and encouragement.

#5 Make yourself available at pick-up time to chat, answer the odd question and simply show that you're interested in connecting children with their parents.


#1 Don't overwhelm parents with information early, keep guidelines to a minimum at first.

#2 Don't assume that parents have little to offer, while some may have unrealistic expectations, they will know their children well. Tap into their insights when possible.

#3 Don't ever talk about a child to the parents of a classmate.

#4 Don't expect too much of parents too early in relation to homework. Like you, they will be busy at the start of the year. A few might pester you for it, but try to maintain a balanced approach.

Other Related Posts

1. 'Starting School: Is there a best perfect age?'

2. 'Making Homework More Relevant and Useful for Learning'