Taking a Deeper Look at Guided Reading

In my last blog, I addressed the importance of guided reading.  With this blog, I want to take a deeper look at guided reading and analyze an interesting and quite informative video I found on Youtube that shows day one of a guided reading lesson. (The video is posted below.)

It would be best to watch the video before reading on!

At the beginning of the lesson, Kaaren, the second grade teacher in the video, sets the purpose of the guided reading experience by saying, “When we infer, we use clues from the text, or the author, and we combine it with our schema, things we already know…” As I have stated in previous blogs, setting the purpose for any reading experience is important because it frames the lesson, focusing the student’s attention to the strategy under consideration.  Then, she gives a quick synopsis about the book, The Lonely Giant, before addressing some difficult words.  She highlights the words knitting, thrust, and great, focusing on the initial sounds of each and explaining what these words mean.  Personally, instead of giving the students the meaning of these words, I would have encouraged them to use context clues, background knowledge, and the illustrations to aid in decoding and understanding them in the context of authentic reading.  These words may be challenging, but they would be quite manageable with a little bit guidance provided by the teacher if needed.  As the students read, Kaaren provides individual assistance when it is needed, directing students back to the text and asking, “What would make sense?”  Additionally, she models making an inference before she requires her students to do so, which is extremely important.  Modeling a reading strategy before requiring students to do so allows them to directly see how it works and how it supports their reading and comprehension.  After they read a few pages “silently”, they stop and make an inference as a group, inferring that the giant probably feels angry and upset.  Kaaren asks, “When we are trying to get someone’s attention, how does it feel when they don’t notice?”  This is a great connection to the student’s past experiences, encouraging them to make a deeper connection to the book.  After the students read a few more pages, Kaaren states, “This time I am going to ask you to do your own inferring.”  Then the students have the opportunity to write their own inferences, applying what they learned to their own reading.  As the guided reading session comes to a close, Kaaren briefly sets the purpose for the next day and sends the students on their way.

Overall, this was a great example of a guided reading lesson.  The teacher defined the purpose, modeled the reading strategy, asked guiding questions, scaffolded thinking, and provided assistance when needed.  Additionally, the students gradually made inferences on their own by using context cues and their own background knowledge.  The one thing I would add, however, would be to connect the whole experience to the student’s independent reading outside of guided reading.  As Sharon Taberski in On Solid Ground: Strategies for Teaching Reading K-3 (2000) explains, “Before I disband [guided reading groups], I remind the children that when they read by themselves, whether at home or in school, they should use the strategy they’ve been working on (in combination with others) is the need arises” (pg. 113).  In order for guided reading to be effective, the strategies learned must be transferred over to independent reading.  As educators, we want our students to apply what they learn in class to their independent reading experiences.

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The Importance of Understanding the Literacy Needs of Your Classroom

In On Solid Ground: Strategies for Teaching Reading K-3 (2000), Sharon Taberski contends that successful guided reading experiences happen when the teacher is able to cluster students with similar reading needs, select a book that offers the right amount of challenge while supporting a targeted strategy, and engage the rest of the classroom in meaningful, often independent, reading work.  Every elementary school classroom that I have worked with has had some sort of guided reading system in place that served as an important piece in the classroom’s overall reading curriculum.  Guided reading involves a small group of children reading the same text under the teacher’s guidance.  Additionally, the children in these small groups should share similar reading strengths and needs, and should benefit from meaningful reading experiences that allow them to practice the same reading strategy.  During guided reading, the students read a book that is challenging, yet manageable, only using the teacher’s guidance when it is required.

Often, teachers construct guided reading groups at the beginning of the school year, usually formed by the results of an informal reading assessment, and keep these groups the same throughout the entire year.  This, however, neglects many of the needs that students may have as they  develop as readers and is an ineffective way to approach the construction of guided reading groups.  Instead, guided reading groups should be flexible, allowing the teacher to evaluate each individual student’s reading development over time and change the groups accordingly.  Based on informal and formal assessments, teachers should frequently change the guided reading groups to address the needs of all their students.  As Taberski explains, “…guiding reading is a way to help children understand how reading works and learn techniques to figure out words and comprehend texts that are just a little too challenging for them to read without support” (pg. 96).  If a student is reading at a higher reading level than his or her peers in a guided reading group, then he or she should be switched to a group that will support his or her needs.  Even though this requires a lot of work, it is essential in meeting the needs of all your students.

Forming guided reading groups takes time because teachers really have to know their students as readers and group them accordingly.  Through reading conferences, running records, interest surveys, and other forms of informal and formal assessment, teachers gradually begin piecing the groups together until they are confident that everything and everyone is in the right place.  Of course, groups may need adjustment right away, but with careful planning, guided reading will become one of the most valuable reading times of the day.

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Teaching Comprehension in the Early Years

In the past, many individuals believed that children must learn how to decode before learning comprehension strategies; however, contemporary research contends otherwise.  As Gretchen Owocki explains in Comprehension: Strategic Instruction for K-3 Students (2003), “In kindergarten and first-grade classrooms, a great deal of comprehension strategy instruction occurs through listening experiences; over time, children become progressively more able to apply these strategies to their independent reading” (pg. 92).  When students learn reading and comprehension strategies simultaneously, they learn that reading serves a purpose and can be used to learn more about the world, themselves, their experiences, and other’s ideas.  When one considers this insight, read alouds, shared reading, and guided reading experiences become critical in helping our young students become fluent readers who read for meaning and comprehension.  Reading to students provides the perfect opportunity to model the types of comprehension strategies that experienced readers use so easily in their daily independent reading.

Many comprehension strategies encourage students to activate their schema, or background knowledge, to analyze and connect to what is being read: the comprehension strategies of predicting, inferring, monitoring, and visualizing all allow students to use what they know to develop a better understanding of the text.  As educators, we need to provide the scaffolding needed to help children make personal connections to text and this scaffolding can come in the form of modeling and questioning.  As Gretchen Owocki contends, “Effective comprehenders monitor their predictions as they read … [recognizing] when their predictions are incorrect…” (pg. 95).  As teachers read, they can use questions to help their students predict or infer (e.g., “Based on the illustration on the front cover and the title of the story, what do you think is going to happen in the story?  Why do you think that?”)  or they can use a think-aloud strategy to model the kind of thinking that is appropriate to make solid predictions and inferences (e.g., “I can see that the main characters face is getting red.  He must really be embarrassed”).  Typically, both teaching strategies occur during read alouds and numerous strategies are highlighted in a single reading session because effective readers use a variety of strategies when they actively engage with text; however, educators usually emphasize one strategy at a time to discuss it in more depth.

Finally, making connections between texts is an important strategy students need to develop.  Students can make connections between books that address the same topic, books that approach different topics, or different genres.  According to Owocki, “Connections between texts happen when children make associations between any two pieces of written language—and use these associations to build their overall schema for the world” (pg. 105).  As teachers discuss stories or factual information with their students, they can encourage students to revisit previous stories to aid their comprehension and understanding of any new information.  For example, a few weeks ago I read Michael Catchpool’s The Cloud Spinner, a book that addresses the environmental issue of abusing natural resources, to my third grade classroom.  Soon, I am going to read Chris Van Allsburg’s Just A Dream, a book that addresses similar environmental issues, and have the students compare and contrast the messages of each.  By comparing and contrasting the message of both books, my students will be able to think critically about the environmental issues that we face today in the context of both stories.


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Shared Reading for Early and Experienced Readers

During shared reading experiences, teachers read a Big Book or enlarged text, such as a poem or portion of a familiar story, with their students, modeling reading strategies that can be used when reading difficult words independently.  There are numerous strategies that teachers can use to help children read unfamiliar words.  By asking students what makes sense, what sounds right, and what looks right, teachers encourage students to use all three cueing systems; effective readers pay attention to meaning, structure, and letter-sound relationships.  In On Solid Ground: Strategies for Teaching Reading K-3 (2000), Sharon Taberski supports using cloze procedures to focus student’s attention to specific cueing systems.  For example, if students are struggling to read for meaning, the teacher can cover up content words, or words that relate to the meaning of the text, having the students consider the meaning of the word in the context of the story or sentence.  Using picture books, teachers can focus student’s attention to the illustrations, prompting them to cross-check their reading; when readers cross-check, they use the illustration and the initial letters of the difficult word to figure out what the word is.  This is a particularly useful strategy to help emergent and early readers use that need extra support in learning how to decode unfamiliar words.  If, for example, a student reads, “I jumped into the pond” instead of reading “I jumped into the river“, the teacher could prompt the students to study the illustration and the initial letter of the word river to redirect the student’s reading.  Teachers want students to develop a disposition to read in a more thoughtful, deliberate manner and shared reading allows this to happen on a larger scale.

According to Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and Diane Lapp (2008), “shared readings have potential with older readers and should not be limited to use with emergent readers” (pg. 548).  Shared reading with older readers involves four components: comprehension, vocabulary, text structure, and text feature.  When focusing on vocabulary, teachers should encourage students to develop both “inside” and “outside” word strategies.  Going outside the word involves using context clues to understand the definition of an unfamiliar word while going inside the word means focusing on word parts, such as prefixes, suffixes, roots, bases, word families, or cognates, of unfamiliar words.  Teachers should encourage students to use both word strategies because this increases the likelihood that students will develop an understanding of unfamiliar words by themselves.  As students gain experience looking at informational texts, teachers can draw their attention to the different headings, captions, illustrations, graphs, diagrams, and glossaries that help readers locate useful information.  Equally as important, teachers need to direct student’s attention to common text structures (e.g., the setting, plot, characters, conflict, main events, and resolution of a narrative text).  Just as with read alouds, “teacher modeling through shared reading should be based on an identified purpose” (Fisher, Frey & Lapp, 2008, pg. 555).  Shared readings allow students to develop reading strategies to use during independent reading, focusing their attention to individual words, sentences, and the overall text.

I posted a video below that shows a teacher using cloze to help her students consider the identity of the covered-up word in the context of the story.  Enjoy!

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Supporting Students Through Word Study

The importance of incorporating a daily word study routine into your teaching schedule cannot be overstated.  In contrast to designing activities that require drill and memorization, word study encourages students to actively analyze spelling patterns and letter-sound relationships.  During word study, students sort words and pictures according to similar speech sounds, spelling patterns, and meaning.  Sharon Taberski’s On Solid Ground: Strategies for Teaching Reading K-3 (2000) advocates using word study groups to focus children’s attention to the phonetic, structural, and morphemic features of our language, contending that word study experiences allow students to learn about the rules and generalizations of our language through hands-on experiences (pg. 118).  Instead of studying words individually, word study allows students to pay closer attention to spelling patterns, and the sounds associated with those patterns, to “unlock” numerous other words that contain similar spelling patterns.  According to Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction (2012), “Students need hands-on opportunities to manipulate word features in ways that allow them to generalize beyond isolated, individual examples to entire groups of words that are spelled the same way” (Bear et al., pg. 3).  For example, if a student is able to separate the onset and rime of the word sat, then the student can also use his or her knowledge of consonant sounds to blend the onsets and rimes of the words pat, cat, hat, and so on (i.e., words associated with the at word family).

When completing sorting activities, students can sort by length, shared letters, common sounds, or similar spelling patterns; similarly, advanced readers can sort words by their syntactic or morphemic features.  Looking at spelling patterns, for example, students can sort words into word families (cat, sat, pat versus tan, can, pan) or by vowel patterns (wait, mail, pain verses hear, near, year).  Along with sorting activities, students can engage in activities that allow them to manipulate the sounds of words.  When I was completing my field experience last semester at West Park Elementary in Ravenna, Ohio, I tutored a kindergarten student who was a struggling reader.  Using Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction as a guide, I decided that this particular student would benefit from working with word families.  He constantly struggled with segmenting the onsets and rimes of CVC words and needed extra help in isolating the middle vowel sound.  To provide the support he needed, I constructed word family wheels (see photograph below), targeting the at, ot, ut, and it word families.  As he turned the wheel, the initial consonant changed, presenting a new word to be blended.  With each new word, he also practiced sounding out the middle vowel sound.  These word wheels allow children to use what they know to read new words.  As Sharon Taberski explains, “Children’s reading ‘takes off’ as they realize that they can use what they know to learn new things” (pg. 116).  As educators, we have a responsibility to help students develop reading strategies that make sense and can be used to solve problems during independent reading.

Self-made word family wheels for the at, ot, ut, and it word families.

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Always Be Purposeful!

If there is one lesson I have learned throughout my teaching experiences that has made a significant impact on the way I teach and interact with children, it would be to always be purposeful.  The importance of this lesson cannot be overstated and is especially relevant to the topic of shared reading.  Shared reading is, quite simply, reading aloud and encouraging children to join in on the reading when it is appropriate; however, not all children will automatically feel comfortable participating in the shared reading experience, which is absolutely okay, and need time to observe the process.  When done properly, shared reading teaches young children reading strategies – such as making predictions, paying closer attention to specific sound-symbol relationships and their relationship to the context of the story, and making analogies to letters and sounds that are already known – in the context of an enjoyable story (enjoyable being the key word, of course).  When teachers read with their students, they have the opportunity to model a multitude of reading strategies that older readers take for granted; students also have the opportunity to practice these reading strategies along with the teacher in a controlled, carefully constructed setting.

After reading a familiar story several times, it is time to focus on teaching for strategies; that is, teaching so that students begin to understand the strategies effective readers use when confronted with an unfamiliar word.  An effective strategy teachers can use during the shared reading process involves using post-it notes to cover up carefully selected words.  As you approach each post-it, ask the students to generate a list of possibilities for what the word underneath might possibly be.  This forces the students to consider the context, or meaning, of the story and the structure of the sentence under consideration before choosing a word that would appropriately move the story along and make sense.  Remember, good readers pay attention to meaning, sentence structure, and graphophonemics when reading and the first part of the post-it activity encourages children to pay attention to meaning and structure.  As the students generate a possible list of words, slowly reveal the initial and final consonants or consonant clusters and encourage the students to reconsider or confirm their list of possibilities.  This forces the students to pay attention to graphophonemics and to reevaluate their earlier decisions.

Of course, the strategy described above is just one of many techniques that teachers can use to support student’s reading development.  Teachers should model strategies that will support student’s emerging ideas about reading and that students can use to successfully figure out unfamiliar words.  So how can teachers be purposeful when planning shared reading lessons?  Consider asking yourself the following questions when constructing a shared reading lesson: What concepts or strategies do I want to emphasize?  How will I demonstrate these strategies?  When will I prompt the children to read with me?  What vocabulary will I highlight?  What are my goals for this lesson?  What do I want the students to learn?  Always plan with your goals in mind.  If you want your students to understand the importance of recognizing word patterns, create experiences that model strategies related to this concept.  Solid planning based on assessment goes a long way in helping students develop the strategies needed to become strategic, independent readers.

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Using the Running Record as a Tool for Teaching

When students engage in reading on a daily basis, they are able to formulate reading strategies, practice strategies learned through shared and guided reading, and gain confidence as readers who are able to read independently.  With daily practice and encouragement, students become more strategic and thoughtful readers who become more conscious about their reading strengths and limitations.  During this time of reading development, teachers need to constantly assess their students’ progress and determine the instruction and resources needed to provide just the right amount of support.  How do teachers determine which texts will challenge their readers without discouraging them?  How can teachers measure reading progress?  The answer is the running record.  However, the running record does much more than provide a measurement.  Sharon Taberski, the author of On Solid Ground: Strategies for Teaching Reading K-3, contends that “[running records] become more of a tool for teaching rather than an instrument to report on children’s status in class or stage of reading” (pg. 46).  Running records inform instruction and serve assessment purposes: two qualities that lead to purposeful teaching.  How to conduct, code and analyze a running record is beyond the scope of this post (Sharon Taberski’s book explains how to do these things much more eloquently, in my opinion); however, it is important to understand that assessment and instruction go together to meet the needs of today’s increasing diverse students.

The idea that an assessment is more of a tool for teaching than a form of measurement is key to understanding that children have reasons behind making the mistakes that they do.  For example, reading, “My mom and I went shopping for food” instead of reading “My mom and I went shopping for groceries,” indicates that the student is reading for meaning and structure.  Substituting the word food for groceries does not alter the meaning of the text and the structure of the English language is upheld.  In this case, the student struggled with matching the visual features of the word with the sounds that those features represent.  By analyzing this one miscue, we learned more about how to help this student than if we just counted the miscue as a mistake and moved on.  Assuming that this student continually made similar miscues, we could direct the student’s attention to the visual features of the text and discuss what sounds those features represent.  In other words, we could help this student develop strategies that deal with analyzing the visual features of text.

While browsing Youtube, I found a wonderful channel that provides early childhood educators advice about conducting running records, analyzing miscues and self-corrections, and activities that support children’s literacy development.  The channel primarily targets younger children (i.e., kindergarten); however, those who teach older children will find some valuable information as well!

http://www.youtube.com/user/artfulreading (Seriously, take a look!)

For those of you still learning how to code and analyze running records, or just need to be reminded (I am still learning something new everyday!), below is a helpful video that explains how to analyze syntactical (structure), semantic (meaning), and graphophonic (visual) miscues.

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