The Costs and Benefits of Reading Groups in the Classroom

After 30 years of teaching and trying different approaches in the teaching of reading, I am convinced that students learn to read best in small reading groups. In fact I feel that the benefits are so valuable that I cannot think of any notable costs to discuss.

These reading groups may consist of students from like or mixed ability, or even interest based, such as Literacy Circles which are a discussion about a novel, poem or other chosen text by the group.

Students are all in different developmental stages of reading. If students are grouped according to similar abilities, they can be taught specific skills and strategies that are matched to their individual learning needs. For example, in my present class there are a number of students who are experiencing difficulty in understanding inference. We sit together as a group of about 6 students, read the same text together and then discuss how we can work out what the author inferred. Those who are competent in this skill don’t need this same lesson and they will be involved in activities that help improve what ever skill they need to develop.

Continuous assessment is very important to ensure that students are in the appropriate groups. This way, students are not stuck in the same ability group but may move to another group more appropriate to their present stage of development and needs. As the teacher works with the teaching group, the other students in the class are involved in working independently at learning tasks which they have an opportunity to share with the rest of the class at the end of the lesson.

As well as needs based teaching groups, I have also used Literacy Circles with my students. Literature Circles are small, temporary discussion groups about the same story, poem, article or book chosen. The students are grouped together based on their interest and reading ability. Just recently a group of excellent readers in my class formed a Literacy Circle group based on Roald Dahl’s novels. The students had all read “Witches” and had great discussion about it. Literature Circles can be used effectively with students of all ages and are usually structured with each student in the circle having a specific role. My role, as a teacher, is to be both a group member and an observer of the skills that students use. These include reading, preparedness for the discussion, cooperation, active listening and on-task behavior.