Every elementary level classroom is faced with the same dilemma when it comes to basal readers. Some children can read the story of the week with ease. They breeze through the comprehension test and related assignments, and spend the remainder of their reading time complaining of boredom or acting out because the lesson does not provide a sufficient challenge. Other children may struggle with sounding out single-syllable words and are unable to read the weekly story because it is far beyond their reading level. Those children become frustrated and choose to play around or talk to their neighbors instead of attempting to complete the reading lesson.
Guided reading is an alternative strategy for reading instruction that can considerably reduce this problem. It does not need to replace the basal reader series, but can be used to supplement instruction during the reading block. The teacher pulls small groups of four or five students, all of whom are reading at about the same level, and instructs the group using leveled readers. This way, the lessons can be tailored to address specific skills or needs.
The teacher begins designing a guided reading group by assessing her students. A variety of different assessments are available depending upon the school and district, but if the school does not have a preferred method of assessment, the teacher can take a running record using a leveled reader to determine the child’s reading level. Many schools already have leveled readers; others are available as internet downloads. The goal is for the child to read the text with at least 90% word accuracy and to understand at least 90 percent of what he or she has read. This allows the student to read independently while scaffolding a small amount of new material into each lesson.
After assessing each student, the teacher can group the class according to reading levels. These groups can and should be flexible. A child who meets the desired skill or who makes considerable progress can join other groups as needed to work on other strategies.
The teacher meets with each group for approximately twenty minutes. She begins the lesson by establishing a purpose for reading; for example, if working with K-2 early readers, she might read the title, introduce several new vocabulary words, and take the children on a ‘picture walk,’ in which they look at the pictures in the story and determine what the story might be about. Children in third and fourth grades might read a text independently and jot down any questions they have, facts they have learned, or connections that they have made with the text. Younger students should whisper read, while older students can read silently. After reading, the teacher should ask students questions about the story to generate discussion and ensure that the children have understood what they have read.
Literacy centers are an important component of guided reading groups. The teacher should place students in small groups and provide them with developmentally-appropriate activities to complete while she is meeting with reading groups. Several literacy center options include partner reading, where students read a book together; listening center, where they listen to and read with a pre-recorded book; and word sorts, where they sort words into common categories or word families.
Guided reading can benefit students because it allows them to read independently on their own reading levels, so the work is neither too challenging nor too easy. However, it takes some foresight on the part of the teacher to make guided reading classes a success. It is important to introduce the centers one or two at a time and monitor students until they can complete the activities on their own. It is also important to make sure that the centers are differentiated enough so that students can work at an independent level without becoming bored or frustrated. Finally, good classroom management is essential. The teacher must establish her expectations for center behavior and must ensure that students stay on task while she is meeting with groups.