Is guided reading working??

Alright friends, you may want to sit down for this one…

Ready?? I think we need to take a break from guided reading….

I know, I know…huge, unpopular opinion. And now if you’ve worked with me in the past, you know what a huge believer I’ve been in guided reading. However, over the past few months I’ve been reading a lot of research and thinking about reading instruction differently. Experts believe that guided reading is happening in over 70-80% of the classrooms across the country…and…there isn’t much evidence to prove that it actually is increasing students’ reading abilities.

Even Tim Shanahan, one of the leading literacy experts, states in a 2011 article, “I have sought studies that would support the original contention that we could facilitate student learning by placing kids in the right levels of text. Of course, guided reading and leveled books are so widely used it would make sense that there would be lots of evidence as to their efficacy. Except that there is not.”

Why the change in thinking?

*Guided reading is absolutely a teacher-driven practice. Teachers hold the control in a guided reading group and do about 95% of the work. They decide who is in the group, what is being read, how many pages, where they’ll stop for discussions (that they’ve already preplanned). Students who are always finding themselves in the “low group” are seldom given the opportunity to read rich, and challenging books.

*Students aren’t becoming self-directed, joyful readers just because we’ve been prioritizing daily, guided reading groups. Students become readers, in every positive sense of that word, when most of their reading time is dedicated to uninterrupted, voluminous reading of texts they can and want to read.

*When you think “differentiation”, you naturally think about guided reading. Students are grouped with students at their reading level; it’s easy to feel like your differentiating for each student’s individual needs. However, we as teachers have a tendency to use similar discussion questions, graphic organizers, and activities for each group, regardless of ability level. For example, the popular strategy of using “Somebody Wanted But So Then” as a way to help build summarizing skills is completely appropriate for a level M/N reader when they’re working on identifying one problem. However, strategies like this are being used as a blanket for all readers; students reading around a Q/R/S, no longer need this strategy. They’re advancing onto more complex reading skills and continually using these strategies in a guided reading group are now hindering them from practicing the more complex skills they actually need.

*With so much on teachers’ plates these days, things are bound to “get cut out” throughout the day to accommodate the other things that come up. Unfortunately, guided reading always seems to be the thing that gets missed. Students already get very minimal one on one time with their teacher for support, understandably so. But if we keep engaging in a practice that we’re ok with skipping to get to the many other things, what’s the point of even doing it? Our time would be better spent ensuring our Tier 1 instruction is strong enough with scaffolds and supports for all of our students.

What to do instead…

“Ok, that’s great, Liz…so what in the world should I be doing instead??”

I get it…I’m challenging what we know, and what we’ve been doing for years. Trust me, it’s hard for me to even be writing this, especially because I’m also guilty of doing everything listed above. #whenyouknowbetteryoudobetter

*Place students in flexible groups based on deficits in certain skills or standards. Use timely and relevant data from classroom assessments. For example, if you’re teaching identifying the perspective of an author in your direct instruction, then use a quick check-in to help guide your next day small group work. Maybe some students need to be taught a strategy that will just help them learn how to identify what a perspective is. Others may be ready to learn how to weave their own perspectives into the text. Constantly switching up which students are in which groups not only is intentional teaching, but it also allows the “typical lower” students to have the chance to be in a “higher group”.

*Focus on 1-1 conferring during independent reading time. Students are engaged in their own self-selected books; you can use this time to bounce between your students and teach them a skill or strategy that is unique to their specific needs. This is by far my favorite teaching practice! I absolutely love hearing students talk about the books they have chosen for themselves!

*Put more of a focus on student-led book clubs, rather than guided reading. Let students choose their own books and form their own groups; this automatically ensures more of a buy-in from your students. Students can make their own decisions about how much to read, what to talk about, and when to meet. As a teacher, you can give each group a focus area for each time they meet. For example, in addition to their normal readings, maybe you tell them to identify the different perspectives of the author through the book.

Phew…that was a lot to take in. I’d love to hear your thoughts, too! ❤️

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