As I make my frequent stops to Target, Office Max, Lakeshore Learning Store, etc. to find the best deals for the back-to-school season, I’m also thinking about how I will teach even better during this upcoming school year. In addition to teaching reading intervention, I have the added responsibility of coaching and mentoring the K-3 classroom teachers at my school in best practices for literacy instruction.
In preparing for my additional role, I have spent the last week reading Debbie Diller’s Making the Most of Small Groups: Differentiation for All book. (While also working on my tan…)
While reading, I couldn’t help but reflect upon my own teaching practices. I cringe thinking about my first few years of teaching. How did those children learn anything from me?? Well, I must have done something right because I spent the following years watching them move on from grade-to-grade. But I also came to understand that my teaching practice is always evolving. For as long as I’m a teacher, I cannot be immune to my mistakes. I will always be growing, learning, and improving upon my teaching practice.
I compiled a list of my well-intentioned approaches that just, well, wasn’t effective. I hope this list will help you in your guided reading instruction. If you want to read more, I included the page numbers from Debbie Diller’s book that I used as a reference.
MISTAKE #1: I didn’t have a thorough plan before teaching. Often times, my plan for guided reading only involved two things: the students I’ll be meeting with and the book I’ll be using with them. Since the books are short and at an easy elementary reading level, I don’t even read them ahead of time. Admit it–I’m not the only one–you’ve been guilty of this too! While there is nothing wrong with this “plan” and when you’re meeting with so many different groups, it’s inevitable that you will not be able to plan anything more than this from time-to-time. However, when I spent an extra few minutes planning for each group, the results among the children were significantly better. The skills taught were intentional and not just happenstance.
*Takeaway: Plan a skill you will be focusing on with a specific group of students with a book you have read in advance.
**Further reading p. 5-9
MISTAKE #2: I only used the leveled readers from my basal reading curriculum. The leveled-readers that came with the Scott Foresman: Reading Street curriculum were terrible. The readers had no F & P guided reading level, Lexile, or any useful leveling apart from the words below-level, on-level, and above-level. In trying to use the expensive readers my school purchased, I sorted my students into those three groups for my entire first year of teaching. (CRINGE!) Thankfully, I learned a more effective approach during a guided reading workshop. I assessed my students so I knew what books to use in small groups at their instructional level. Book sets were expensive though, so I used book sets available through my school, book sets donated by Half-Price Books, ordered book sets using points accrued from the Scholastic Book Club, and printed books from Reading A-Z.
*Takeaway: Use running records to continually assess the reading level of students. Use texts that the students can read at 90-94% accuracy.
**Further reading p. 4
MISTAKE #3: The students were doing round-robin reading. Round-robin reading admittedly was the biggest mistake I made when I first started teaching reading. What was my reasoning for round-robin reading? Well, nothing more than my teachers did it when I was a student and I continued to do it when I started as a teacher. Keeping in mind that the ultimate goal of guided reading is to give the students enough reading practice so they can eventually gain independent reading skills. Round-robin reading does not achieve this goal. The students are listening to each other but rather than focusing on word-solving and comprehension, they are more worried about reading perfectly in front of their peers. Some students are bored when a child is reading too slow. Some students are frustrated because they lost their spot and can’t follow along with the child reading. While it is important to give the students opportunities to listen to each other read, guided reading is not the time. Students will be reading their new text during your small group at the same time, but independently of each other and at their own pace. You will then listen for a minute or two to each student as they are reading.
*Takeaway: Allow students to read independently of each other and at their own pace.
**Further reading p. 8
MISTAKE #4: When students come to an unknown word, I gave it to them. I still can’t help but give the tricky word to students sometimes. I see students, parents, and even teachers doing this all the time. But if you just keep giving the word to the student, then you’re not teaching them how to word-solve, which is an essential independent reading skill they are trying to learn. Now, when a student gets to a tricky word, I wait 3 seconds. The 3 seconds of silence is really uncomfortable for the student and often-times uncomfortable for the teacher. However, it is important to give the student time to attempt the word. After 3 seconds, I use several prompts such as:
- Look at the anchor charts to help you.
- It’s a sight word we’ve been working on this week.
- Can you chunk the word?
- You say the first sound, I’ll say the rest.
- It rhymes with…
*Takeaway: When a child encounters a tricky word, don’t just give the child the word.
**Further reading: p. 8
MISTAKE #5:. I didn’t connect the skills during guided reading to other parts of the day. One day during guided reading, we were talking about how the setting changed multiple times in a story we were reading. This boy in my group was able to describe the multiple setting changes perfectly. Then, during whole group, we were reading a class story. I called on this particular student to describe the setting, but this student seemed to draw a complete blank and looked at me as if he had never heard of the term setting. I was so frustrated because we had just talked about it for several days during guided reading. The next day during guided reading, he successfully described the setting of the story. I then said to him, “I want you to think about setting again later today when we read a different story during read-aloud. I want you to think about where and when the story takes place.” The boy smiled and nodded. Later that day during read aloud, I asked the students about setting and the boy immediately threw his hand up eager to answer. I learned that I was teaching skills in isolation and therefore not being intentional in how I wanted to the students to transfer their learning to other contexts.
*Takeaway: Connect the skills students are focusing on during Guided Reading to other parts of the day.
**Further reading: p. 9-10
New teachers and veteran teachers, I hope this post has been helpful for you. If you would like to discuss guided reading, please join me this afternoon (Tuesday 7/21/15) on Periscope @msmaihuynh at 4:15 p.m. CST. If you are not available for the Periscope, the replay will be available for 24 hours. Otherwise, please leave your questions or comments below.
Thanks for reading!