Recently someone commented on my post about guided reading, hoping for more information on what it is and how it works. I am by no means an expert on guided reading, but I will do my best!
So, first there's the defintion of guided reading provided by this handy little article I found on Scholastic.com. What it means in my day-to-day teaching life is that I gather up all the students in my group who are reading at a certain level -- say, E -- and we get together to read a book that's a level F. So it's more challenging than their independent level, which is why we work at it together and I give my struggling readers lots of support.
Personally, I love guided reading. I really get to see every day how it helps my struggling readers -- it is scaffolding at its best. When I meet with my really low readers to do guided reading, I do a lot of scaffolding. First we talk about the book without even opening it -- what do we notice about the cover, etc. I try to connect their prior knowledge to what the book will be about. For example, with my E level readers we just read a book called My Haircut, so we had a little conversation about who cuts our hair and if we ever had a bad haircut.
Then we take a little "picture walk" through the book -- we slowly turn through the pages and notice things about the pictures, making predictions about what might be happening in the story. As we're going I point out some tricky words that I know will give them trouble (either because they're hard to sound out or because they have an unfamiliar meaning), and I have them put their fingers on the word and repeat it.
Finally before they start to read I give them a "purpose for reading" -- this is fancy Teachers College talk for a comprehension question that I plant in their minds before they read, like, "While you're reading today I want you to think about how the boy is feeling when he's getting his hair cut."
Then they start to read the book independently. While they're reading (theoretically they are reading "with the voice in their brains," but most of my readers are still reading out loud), I listen in and "coach into" them. So if a reader is stuck on a word, I might prompt them to try a certain strategy.
Usually my low readers make it through a book pretty quickly, and then we come back together to have a discussion -- first we talk about the comprehension question I asked them before we started, and then I choose a teaching point to leave them with. For instance, if I noticed that all the readers in my group were stuck on words where they could have used the picture to help them, I might show them how next time they can try to use the picture to help them tackle a tricky word -- I give them a quick chance to practice that strategy, and then off they go!
My commenter asked how guided reading can be effective when children don't have exposure to phonics. I think the answer is -- it can't! Everything works in conjunction with everything else. Our kids get the majority of their phonics work not during Readers' Workshop but through a program called Fundations (which I also happen to love). I try as best I can to integrate that phonics work into guided reading -- for example, today in a guided reading group, we talked about the "oa" vowel team and how "when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking." In another guided reading group today, I coached a girl who was having trouble with the word "morning" -- when I asked her to look at the end of the word, she immediately recited, "i-n-g, ring, ing," which is straight out of the Fundations script.
I have even done some successful guided reading groups with really low-level readers -- kids who don't speak a word of English. In that case, we all kind of read the book together and I modeled reading techniques like one-to-one correspondence and matching pictures with words. In that case, of course, guided reading isn't going to be the thing that teaches them how to read. But along with word in phonics, it can be the thing that bumps them up to a higher level!
I hope this was an adequate response!