Earlier this month I finished “Preventing Misguided Reading” by Jan Miller Burkins and Melody M. Croft, and I found it to be a thought-provoking re-visitation of guided reading packed with concrete suggestions. It’s obvious that Jan and Melody are working from experience in the classroom as they describe so many of the problems that have accompanied guided reading as it’s become a pervasive practice across the country. Among their arguments:
• reading is a balance between print and story cues, and instruction should reflect this balance;
• the traditional instructional level of 90-94% is too low, and is based on Clay’s work with individual students – they suggest 95-98% as instructional;
• the student should be doing the majority of the work during guided reading, not the teacher;
• actual instruction should not happen during guided reading;
• guided reading is a part of the gradual release of responsibility model.
It’s these last 2 points that have become an epiphany for me. The authors argue, and I agree, that too often the elements of gradual release have become disconnected across the day – we might model self-questioning during modeled reading, have students help us find the rhyming words during shared reading of a big book, practice predictions during guided reading groups, and then have students read independently and record the beginning, middle and end of the story. Each of these parts of the day has become an instructional time, and they’re all focusing on different elements of reading!
Instead, Jan and Melody say, have the day make sense to kids by choosing one strategic focus and carry it throughout your modeled, shared, guided and independent reading. For instance, if during guided reading you notice students are only “sounding out” unfamiliar words and not using the prominent picture clues simultaneously, then during read aloud time model how you solve some unfamiliar words when you read aloud a picture book. Think out loud about how you used both the letter clues AND the pictures to figure out the hard word. Then, during shared reading, have students help you read aloud a big book, discussing how they solved several difficult words and their strategies for doing so. This makes the modeled reading and shared reading more instruction-heavy, and allows guided reading (which is actually just the step right before independent reading in the gradual release model) to be a much more student-driven session. The same instructional focus is threaded throughout modeled, shared, guided and independent reading.
The teacher’s chief job during guided reading should be to observe student behaviors and to step in with very broad prompts when needed. The student needs during this time inform the instruction you’ll provide later in modeled and shared reading.