The Costs and Benefits of Reading Groups in the Classroom

Grouping for reading is costly – very costly in regard to the teacher’s most precious commodity – time! How does one tend to the individualized needs of each child in a class of 23 students or more? How does one manage the specific academic requirements in each subject for every student in the class? Small group, direct instruction accompanied by reading stations have worked effectively with economically disadvantaged students from a community outside of New York City.

The children were grouped homogeneously according to their reading instructional level. Advanced and on grade level readers met with the teacher or her assistant at least once a week. Children working below grade level would meet with the teacher daily. The benefits to the struggling readers (now called emerging readers) are phenomenal ! Children who hated reading become active learners through grouping for direct instruction. Since attention spans are limited with the emerging readers, instructional time was carefully monitored from 15 to 20 minutes. A timer would go off signalling to the children that the reading group was finished and reading stations had to be rotated.

Small groups allow the opportunity to assess the needs of students in comprehension and vocabulary. Their academic difficulties became the lessons for the following week. Children who hated reading at the onset of the school year were actually asking if it was time for their group yet. Grouping with direct instruction seems to be very beneficial in meeting the needs of the poor reader.

The higher functioning groups get less instructional time. However, mastery of concepts allowed many of them to become peer tutors in reading stations while motivating other groups to try to achieve mastery. Grouping requires a lot of planning. Lessons for the individual reading groups need planning, then reading activities require plans. Some of the stations on reading skills utilize all the disciplines and need to be incorporated into ELA stations. Developing stations for ELA is costly in regard to time, but if the stations are interdisciplinary, one can then cover the curriculum.

Reading groups are called from reading stations.The stations are set up as follows: Stations 1 to 5 always have the same name, but concepts or disciplines may change within them. Before each set of stations is begun instruction is given on how to do the stations and what is expected. At the end of the stations for that day, children share orally what they learned in order to develop metacognition – an important part of lessons where students orate what they have learned to assimilate and accommodate their newly learned skills.

Station 1 (Vocabulary)

Vocabulary development would be the focus including phonics, context clues, study skills, etc. Each week Station 1 would incorporate different disciplines (science, math or social studies). The children would learn how to use context clues to define words.. Contextual clues are present in many reading pieces, so it doesn’t matter if you give the children reading material in science, math or social studies because context clues will still be context clues! This station is always for vocabulary development, but it can vary in presentation.

Station 2 (Reading)

Teacher chosen books in a bin called “Browsing Books” would be in the station along with a graphic organizer. Directions for this station may say read with a partner or no partners today. A graphic organizer (A paper that contains a web or some other graphic are designed to emulate the requirements of the curriculum where the child fills in the organizer to practice a skill in conjunction with the format of the state test. Prior to beginning the ELA block of time, whole group instruction is given on the concept and how to use the station.

Station 3 (Listening Comprehension)

Listening comprehension is where a tape recorder would be set up and children were made accountable to take notes. The book could be one of the forms of literature or could be from one of the disciplines (recorded by a peer tutor or a teacher)

Station 4 (Writing)

The children are required to have writing folders at various stages of development. An assignment would be given according to the plan for that week.(narrative, literary response, poetry, etc). Once the assignment is completed, students are able to complete other work from their writing folders.

Station 5 (Computers – everyone’s favorite station)

The computers would be loaded with teacher selected software. The children loved this station Discipline became very easy because if you received three strikes (for inappropriate behavior) you would not be allowed to use the computer station that day. For the children – that was a fate worse than death! Needless to say, behavior was stellar!

Seeing children enjoying reading where they previously hated it and watching children enjoy learning concepts through reading stations is very rewarding. However, it was very costly in terms of one’s precious time to plan and set up. But the end result was so rewarding that the pleasure of the benefits of reading groups and reading stations in the classroom certainly outweighed the pain of the costs.