Why do we still use reading carousels?
To me, the benefits of utilising rotations or carousels are a mystery. In fact, I believe carousels might just be having a negative impact, especially in reading.
The carousel has crept into British primary classrooms over the last decade yet there doesn’t seem to be a single piece of research hailing its benefits. Last year, I added it to the growing pile of accepted, and popular, teaching approaches I would be abandoning.
What is the carousel approach?
Firstly, the approach involves grouping children but not necessarily by ability. Each group rotates around a number of activities throughout a lesson or number of lessons. While carousels within single lessons can be effective, many schools expect some subjects to be taught using a weekly carousel.
Let’s say a teacher uses the carousel for reading. More often than not, the class is divided into five reading groups, organised by ability. The teacher then plans one teacher led activity and four independent activities.
It is important to note that the independent activities should be easy enough for a child to complete without asking for help and without teacher input. I find this difficult to support as we should be pushing our children, not just providing activities that keep them quiet.
Over the course of a week, every activity is completed. There is an example below:
Dahl Group –
- Monday – Independent reading
- Tuesday – Pre-read the teacher text
- Wednesday – Reading with the teacher
- Thursday – Design a book cover for your favourite book
- Friday – Comprehension task
Benefits of rotations
- Teachers who use this approach believe it is easier to differentiate activities to each level of ability. The theory is that by grouping and teaching in this way, a teacher can challenge each group appropriately.
- Planning time is significantly less if each resource is reused five times. Once a teacher has prepared for Monday, they have prepared for the whole week.
- It masks the glaring problems with primary classrooms created by increasing class sizes and decreasing adult to pupil ratio. Most primary classes in the UK now have limited or no access to learning assistants.
- The carousel approach limits spontaneity. Consequently, children with Additional Support Needs (ASN) may feel more included as they are able to see exactly what they will be doing throughout the week.
Why we should get off the carousel
- Using daily rotations, teachers struggle manage the rest of the class. More often than not, the teacher has limited scope to keep groups other than the teaching group on task. This is disruptive and learning time is wasted.
- By choosing to deliver lessons in this way, the teacher is limiting instruction to once a week per child. This could be having a serious and lasting effect on attainment.
- Rotations make it impossible to check for misconceptions or mistakes among the majority of learners at the crucial time – during the lesson. It is only after the learning has taken place that a teacher can identify misconceptions. By this time, it is too late. Oral feedback and live marking, as well as reducing workload for teachers, are proven to be more effective than traditional written feedback.
- Rotations require teachers to repeat identical or similar lesson deliveries daily. This takes all spontaneity out of teaching and turns instruction into a soulless, robotic, arguably less passionate dialogue.
- When asked to deliver my lessons in the carousel format, I have been told to plan ‘easy’ independent tasks so that the children do not have to ask for support. But if a child finds four fifths of the week’s learning easy, are they being challenged enough?
What do you think?
I have found it difficult to justify delivering my lessons using this approach. Instead I usually prefer high frequency whole class instruction. However, you might have found a way to make rotations work for you and your children. If so, let me know how it works using the comment section below.