Improving Reading Comprehension with Reader’s Theater Script-Stories
This is part of an ongoing blog series about the effectiveness of using Reader’s Theater script-stories in the secondary classroom. Don’t know what a script-story is? Click here to start at the beginning.
For over fifteen years, I have been using script-stories to boost my students’ engagement and performance in English class. I know it works because I see the informal results: I see the smiles on my students’ faces, their eagerness to read more, and their improved quiz scores. My students recognize the effects as well. On my end-of-the-year surveys, the vast majority of students comment that one of the primary reason they enjoy script-stories is they make it easier to understand the basic details of a story. But in the back of my mind I’ve always wondered: Would this approach hold up to academic scrutiny? If I did action research on this method, would it show conclusive results? In one way, it would be wonderful to know. But in another way, what if our perception was actually wrong?
Last semester I finally took the plunge, and in conjunction with two university researchers, I performed a bit of action research in my classroom. The experiment worked like this: I randomly divided each section of 10-12th graders I teach into two groups by drawing their names out of a hat. One group, the treatment, would read the passage aloud as a scripted story. The comparison group would read the passage silently. The text I chose was Sir Conan Arthur Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes short story “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” The comparison group read the original story while the treatment group received a script-story version of the story to read aloud as a group. The only changes I made to the story to transform it into a script form were to add tags (i.e. “Sherlock” and “Watson”) to the lines of dialogue and the remove instances of “he said,” “she said,” etc. within the text. After reading the story, both groups would take the same reading comprehension quiz. Finally, I would have conclusive proof that script-stories do improve reading comprehension.
I could not let my students know what was going to happen. I told them we were taking a reading comprehension test, but they were not aware that one group would be allowed to read the story as a script-story and the other would not. (If they had, they would not have been happy!)
On the first day of my research I sent all the students in the comparison group to the library with an alternate assignment. Then I passed out the script-story version of “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” to the remaining students and asked them to divvy up the parts. I did not read any section of the script-story, nor did I offer any clarification in regard to the story’s plot, theme, or characters. At the completion of the script-story, which took approximately thirty-five minutes, the students logged into their Chromebooks and took a ten-question multiple-choice reading quiz over the events of the story.
On the second day of research, the process was reversed. I sent all students in the treatment group to the library with an alternate assignment and handed out the prose version of “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” I gave them thirty-five minutes to read the story silently to themselves, and once again, I did not provide any background on the story, its plot, theme, or characters. At the end of thirty-five minutes, I instructed the students to log into their Chromebooks and take a ten-question reading quiz over the events of the story.
Just by looking at the preliminary results, I could see they showed that the script-story group outperformed the silent reading group, but what would the experts say? I sent my data off for the university researchers to analyze. (They can analyze data in a way that my brain cannot!) Fortunately, their verdict mirrored mine: Reader’s Theater script-stories significantly improved students’ reading comprehension!
These findings align with comments my students have made on past surveys:
- “Sometimes when I silent read, I get lost and confused about who is talking or who the narrator’s talking about. [Script-stories make] it easier because each person in the story has someone else's voice, rather than one person talking the whole time.”
- “What I like best about reading out loud is every character has a different voice. I find it easier to keep all the different characters separate when they all have a different voice and you aren't reading all of it on your own.”
- “With other people reading and using different voices, it makes me want to get involved in the class and story we are reading.”
- “I like reading script stories because all the characters really come alive and the different personalities are great.”
Using script-stories at the secondary level is still relatively unexplored territory, but it need not be. I hope this classroom experiment, and the forthcoming article documenting it, will prompt other teachers to give script-stories a try. It truly works! The research says so!
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