Saturday, February 8, 2014

Is It Guided Reading?

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:
These points are just a few that came quickly to me as I reflected on guided reading.  I'd love to hear your thoughts and considerations in guided reading lessons for your classroom.  I hope you'll share them below.

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.


  1. Cathy, I soaked this right up! It's excellent! Thank you!

  2. Well said!!! I couldn't agree more and share the same frustration when I see things labeled on Pinterest or in blogs as guided reading when they are far from it!

  3. I love your last paragraph on Improving Guided Reading. I firmly believe that children need access to instruction and text at times that is right for them. We need to return to these leaders and their works that support early readers. (All readers.) I think about how even as an 'old teacher', I still need training and time to reflect on these practices. :) It's an ongoing process that needs Lots of time for training and reflection. Not a packet of worksheets.

    What a great, well written article. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I enjoyed your thoughts about this very much, Cathy. It will help me in conversations with those teachers I work with! Thanks!

  5. We should write a book together. I could have written this same post. I was just sharing at a staff meeting that sometimes I feel like my first graders learn by osmosis. What I mean really is that it feels very natural in my classroom. I find that using the original "guided reading" methods feel staged and kids don't think they have anything to do with their independent reading. I don't meet in small groups in the same ways as I see other teachers in my school doing. I meet sometimes in larger (6 kid) groups when we are going over how to think about parts of a story before a retell or very small groups (2 kids) when we work on remembering to use picture clues. I also do whole group strategy lessons when I am modeling what readers should be doing. My new motto this year is Model everything. Assume nothing. Thanks for your post Cathy. I love learning from you!


  6. Kathy,
    This is such a helpful post. GR is the area I struggle with the most. Your chart is very concise and includes some really important elements. I feel like I spend too much time working with my groups because I'm trying to cover too much ground in a short amount of time. Your advice to think in threes and to focus on your teaching point are great suggestions. Also, staggering the reading is a great tip that I have never thought to do.
    Thanks again for this thoughtful and extremely helpful post.

  7. Cathy, thanks for sharing your thoughts about guided reading! I shared this with my colleagues and hope it sparks some thoughts and conversations. Guided reading is probably the most difficult to plan for in a balanced literacy framework.

    I appreciate your insights, especially about the word work invasion! I agree! Word work should be quick and systematic, rather than taking over the guided reading time. Also, thanks for sharing your "helpful tips" when planning for guided reading. Great teaching points! I want to continue to support the idea of flexible groups and allowing students time to practice strategies independently!

    Thanks, Cathy!

  8. Hi Cathy, I am so with you in regards to things found loosely labeled as Guided Reading on Pinterest and worse yet, for sale on Teacher Pay Teachers. In our own classrooms we are keenly aware of what our children need (not what a worksheet says to do with students they don't know!)

    Our Guiding Readers groupings are typically students who are gathered together around a strategy rather than a reading level. This allows us to instruct students based on what they need to access text, any text at their level, without the challenge of finding multiple copies of reading material that may be too hard for some in the group. We model, think aloud, guide, etc. using a shared text, then quickly move into having the students practice with text at their own level.

    Periodically we will group students who read a similar level or group them using multiple copies of a book, but only if the whole group needs the strategy instruction which requires this.

    Thank you for your wonderful blog, work and reflective thinking and insights!

  9. I hope you all have time for daily explicit teaching of the alphabetic code so that children can actually READ the black marks on the page in order to get at the meaning. I really hope you are not teaching them to look at the initial letter, then the picture to guess the words. This is why so many children are failing!!! Have any of you read Teach Them All To Read by Elaine McEwan?

  10. Cathy, is there a way to print your document?