Is it Guided Reading?
Perhaps I should apologize up front for this rant-ish post. However, the recent abundance of pins on Pinterest labeled "guided reading" has gotten the best of me. Go ahead, click over to Pinterest, type "guided reading" in the search, and voila a huge cache of printed worksheets will appear. Want to practice sounds with worksheets? Want to BUY three ring binders full of scripted guides? Need a question spinner? You won't be able to view them all because many will send you to a link in which you can purchase these documents. Ok, I'm being dramatic. Very dramatic. You will also find some thoughtful resources which might help you with planning, thinking about strategic reading, or organizing your record keeping system. These pins did, however, make me pause for a minute to think of the true work we do in guided reading.
According to Fountas and Pinnell, "Guided reading is a context in which a teacher supports each reader's development of effective strategies for the processing novel texts at increasingly challenging levels." In its truest context, guided reading is a small group of children who have similar need and use similar processes to read new text. In its purest form, guided reading begins with an introduction to the book, the children read the book with teacher support, and then the teacher chooses a teaching point at the end of the reading.
Considering Guided Reading
Over the years we have adapted guided reading, at times for the better, to make it work for our young readers. Perhaps improving guided reading is a bit like improving your writing, it may be best to know the rules and learn to bend them. Sometimes, however, we have made adaptations that are not the best for the purposes of guided reading. Sometimes it could be argued that these activities we have added are helpful for students, but should they be a part of guided reading?
For example, in the early days of my guided reading instruction I always chose my teaching point after students had finished the book. Since then, I've discovered that it works better for me to group students because I have noticed they need particular support. I now give my teaching point BEFORE my lesson, support students as they read trying to return to this teaching point across with thoughtful language prompts, and then have students reflect on the teaching point at the end of the lesson. I feel this change works better for students in most cases.
On the other hand, there was much talk about adding word work to guided reading lessons. Understanding the importance of students having these opportunities I started including it in all of my lessons using magnetic letters or dry erase boards. However, I began to notice that it sometimes bogged down the lesson, took much time, and that students were often worn out before we got to the important work I had planned for the group. Now I only add word work to the beginning, or sometimes the end, of a lesson if it makes sense with my teaching point. Not every group needs word work during a lesson and I've found other places in our day to accomplish this learning.
Here are some things I try to do to make guided reading effective:
Improving Guided Reading
It seems often our professional development time is spent these days learning new systems for evaluation, tracking data, and improving test scores. However, if we don't take time to look at the ways to improve the learning in our classrooms we are short changing our students and our teachers. I'm thankful for the abundance of shared thinking in digital spaces, but there aren't quick fixes to challenging questions. In my opinion, the best way to improve guided reading isn't by purchasing materials for lessons, but instead by looking carefully at the works of educators like Marie Clay, Fountas and Pinnell, Lucy Calkins, Kathy Collins, Pat Johnson, Katie Keier, and others who have written about ways to support readers. It's in working with children, reflecting on our lessons, and discussing with our peers that we can begin to make important shifts in supporting young readers. Most of all, it is in remembering that ultimately our goal is for young readers to read. The best way to do that is to provide opportunities for them to do just that.