Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Reading Activities vs. Really Reading

Which of these activities would you consider more valuable during the time allotted for reading in your language arts block?

A: Handing out an article about the Titanic accompanied by a list of ten literal level comprehension questions for students to complete. Encouraging students to scan the text to find the answers.


B: Handing out an article about the Titanic and instructing students to read it and think about the new information they learn as they read the article.

What about this scenario?

Following a mini lesson on reader’s “tone”, which do you consider to be more valuable?

A: Handing out a blank piece of paper and allowing students ten minutes to sketch the setting of their independent reading book. At the conclusion of ten minutes of drawing, asking students to switch papers with a friend and asking partners to reflect on the details of the sketch.


B: Asking students to pay attention to the author’s “tone” in their story as they take out a self selected book and read independently for twenty minutes.

In my opinion, the only choice in both of these examples is B. The reason is simple. Choice B requires students to read large chunks of text for sustained amounts of time. Both Choice A examples are what I lump into the category of “reading activities”—stuff done in the name of reading that has little or no real reading involved. Little to no reading means little to no practice. Little to no practice means little to no improvement.

When it comes to student reading achievement, there are four tenets that guide all of my instructional decisions:
  1. Students need to read more pages.
  2. Students need to read more often.
  3. Students should not read books that are too hard.
  4. Students need expert guidance to grow.
If time were unlimited, maybe we could justify example A activities. However, time is a valuable commodity in education and if we waste it on neatly packaged “activities” children will never achieve the levels of proficiency and meet the standards that we aim to set for them.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Seeing it In Action: Blog #4 in the Guided Reading Series

As many of you know, my 2011 teaching resolution has committed me to learning more about guided reading and as I have studied and learned about this teaching structure, I have found myself wanting to see it in action. “Seeing” is a powerful way of learning; however, observing other teachers teach is a luxury we are not often afforded in education. And as a staff developer, it is an even greater luxury for me.

That is why I turned to the internet and spent the better part of one afternoon trawling for videos that would give me the glimpse I needed to better understand. As I watched video after video, I thought carefully about what I had learned from my textbooks and tried to reconcile that information with what I saw on the screen. I listened to the language that teachers used as they transitioned from one segment of the lesson to the next, I paid attention to how long they spent on their introductions and how much time they spent with each reader. I took notes and wrote down questions and as it turned out, I felt like this afternoon was some of the best staff development I had attended in a long time.

Watching the videos gave me a good sense of the “flow” of a guided reading lesson and I thought a lot about the planning that has to go into a guided reading lesson in order for it to be successful. In her guest blog, Leah emphasizes the need to pre-plan. She writes, “Visiting your book room and spending time choosing appropriate books for your student’s guided reading level and interest is key.” As I watched the videos, I could see how some teachers had planned carefully for their instruction and others, well, it looked like they grabbed a book, gathered some students, and read together. Clearly defining what guided reading is NOT is as important a part of my learning as gaining a better sense of what it IS and that is why I have decided to share some of the videos that I watched with you.

When you have an hour or so, get a pad and a pencil and jot down a few of your questions about guided reading. What is it that you want to better understand? Then, watch these videos. What would you emulate in your own guided reading groups? What would you steer clear of completely? At the end of the day, the big question is: How can “seeing it” inform your instruction?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Planning and Organizing for Guided Reading: Blog #3 in the Guided Reading Series

A Guest Blog by Leah Weissinger

I am a first grade teacher and do guided reading daily with my first grade students. Some of the questions posted are very appropriate for someone trying to envision how to begin, organize and plan for guided reading.

Pacing (getting it all in-meeting with as many groups as possible) and the management of the class are two of the most commonly asked questions about guided reading. Pacing is one of those things that you have to work on and fine tune as you work with groups year after year.

The best way to make sure you have the most efficient and effective guided reading sessions are pre planning. This takes time. Visiting your book room and spending time choosing appropriate books for your student’s guided reading level and interest is key. Sitting and looking at the books to decide your introduction (an introduction should be 2-3 min. to support the students reading and clear up unfamiliar vocabulary and read the cover discuss what the book may be about/prior knowledge of a topic/ if it is fiction or non-fiction), try to determine how the students will interact with the text, and what types of comprehension questions/discussion the text lends itself too as well as word work options. Be sure to vary genres at every level (children need experience with different publishers and genres).

If you have planned well you can call your groups quickly, be prepared with you entire lesson and move quickly to your next group (all guided reading books should go home with your students to be read again to build confidence, fluency and expression).

A guided reading session is a bit different than a conference in the respect that you are sitting back guiding as opposed to being an active member of a conversation with the student (except at the end when you discuss the story to access and even model deeper thinking), you need to listen and only prompt when it is necessary (children should be displaying independent strategies taught and self correcting as they read). If the child is at the appropriate reading level, I have found that they are making meaning as they read. You need to listen in on every child to assess throughout.

A running record can be done at different times (my thought is that you need to know the strategies they are utilizing and future teaching points for each child). I do running as often as possible (I pull a student back after a guided reading session or at other times of the day) But I do take anecdotal notes on every student during each guided reading lesson.

A onetime reading for guided reading is “ideal” because you can quickly assess, support and follow through on the book/lesson. There are plenty of great books and magazines at the higher levels that can be read in one guided reading lesson. Obviously for higher readers chapter books are a genre that need to be supported, so this can look like a literature circle (but you can use guided reading time to call these groups to meet) More advanced readers also don’t really want to reread their chapters at home-so having them read the next chapter and meet is perfectly appropriate . The students should be taking the books home as well to make reading a part of their home life. You do need to monitor reading strategies, fluency, expression and comprehension- character/ plot development and vocabulary strategies at these levels. I would just look at chapter books as a different genre. Explore some higher level one day reads (there are plenty available and you can expose these students to so many genres this way).

What level do you teach? How do you plan for your guided reading instruction?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Thinking About Pacing: Blog #2 in the Guided Reading Series

One of the issues I am perplexed by in guided reading is pacing. I recently had the experience of planning and executing a guided reading session for a group of Level N fourth grade readers. (Click here to see the plan verbatim). Going into the lesson, I wanted to make sure to balance the amount of time I spent teaching and talking with the amount of time students actually spent reading. In the introduction, we previewed the book. I briefly touched upon and taught compound words in context, and I taught students how to notice figurative language and think about how understanding figurative language contributes to meaning making. Afterward, I asked the students to read the story, and as they did, I pulled alongside each member of the group (there were four students) and listened to them read a bit and talked to them about their interpretation of the text. At the end, we came back together, talked, and I sent them back to the large group. All of that took thirty minutes.

Thirty minutes.

To me, thirty minutes seems a bit long. If all of my groups take this long, I am never going to have time to meet with all of my groups and there certainly won’t be enough time to see my strugglers as often as I know they should be seen. I am nervous that if I don’t pace my guided groups correctly, I am not going to meet the needs of the readers in my room.

This experience leaves me with a lot of questions:

  • How can I reign in the length of my group but maintain the quality of the meeting?
  • Is it imperative to check in with each group member while they are reading independently?
  • During the time that I am pulling alongside readers, is it like a conference? Am I doing too much by supporting meaning making? How do you make time for running records and comprehension support?
  • How do I know if the introduction is too long?
  • Is the objective of guided reading for students to finish the selected text in one day or is it okay to continue the same story on another day? (I’m especially confused by this.)

I NEED to hear from the masses. Do you share similar concerns and questions? How have you reconciled these issues in your guided reading instruction?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Professional Resolution: Learn More About Guided Reading

Since my very first day in my very first classroom, I have been gung-ho about reading workshop. I have always been adamant about children choosing books they are interested in and dedicating large chunks of time to independent reading. I delivered the bulk of my instruction through whole group mini lessons and one-on-one conferences. Though I dabbled with book clubs, guided reading and strategy groups were foreign. Very simply put, I didn’t know about teaching this way so therefore, my students were never privy to the benefits of focused small group instruction.

My work as a staff developer has given me many occasions to reflect and think about my days as a classroom teacher. Looking back, I have come to recognize that without small group instruction, I was missing an important opportunity to guide my students to greater proficiency. Clearly, there was a gaping hole in my teaching repertoire which has sent me on a quest to right my wrong. It is my goal to learn everything I can about small group instruction, specifically guided reading.

Since embarking on this quest, I have attended workshops and read books on this topic. Recently I finished Guided Reading (amazon affiliate link) by Fountas and Pinnell and over the summer I read Teaching Reading in Small Groups  (amazon affiliate link) by Jenn Serravallo and Preventing Misguided Reading (amazon affiliate link) by Jan Miller Burkins and Melody Croft. At this point, I feel like I have a sound theoretical knowledge of what small group instruction entails. What I need now is a better understanding of the practical implications of small group instruction. I am boggled and stymied by questions like how long should it take? If it goes on for thirty minutes, is that too long? When I pull up alongside students in guided reading groups to do a running record, is it okay if I don’t get to each student in the group? Do I need to take a running record of every student every time? If I don’t listen to a child read aloud and simply have a conversation about the text, is that okay? What is the best way to embed word study into a guided reading group? Proportionately speaking, how much time should the introduction to the text take?

The list goes on and on and that is why I have resolved to investigate these questions through my own independent study of this important teaching structure. I invite you to join me on my quest and encourage you to share your questions and answers to mine. I am very eager to hear stories from the trenches so that I can begin to piece together the guided reading puzzle. This blog will be the first in a series of forthcoming blogs that will reveal my learning process and thinking about this important teaching structure. I do hope that you join me and share your thinking. When it comes to guided reading, what would you like to learn more about?