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.