Thursday, September 25, 2008

Guidance for guided reading

Yesterday was like a black hole of a day. I was so busy every second and so discombobulated that at the end of the day I realized I couldn't remember a single thing I had taught. So is it any wonder the kids can't either?

Today I learned that I am doing a lot of things wrong. And it's not because I'm a bad teacher or an unintelligent person; it's because the procedures for teaching reading at my school are so arcane and so intricate that I feel like I need a second master's degree in how to fill out all the paperwork I'm expected to maintain. One of the things we have to do when meeting with a guided reading group is set out a "purpose for reading." We tell the kids that before they begin to read the book independently, they should keep in mind X or think about Y while they are reading.

(Quick tutorial for those of you who don't teach elementary reading: In a guided reading group, you pull all your kids who are reading at a certain level, and you read a book with them that's one level higher than their "just right" level. You sit down with them and preview the book, give them the gist of the story, show them some of the tricky words they'll encounter, and then you coach them and "guide" them as they read independently or out loud to you. Then you wrap it up with a teaching point you want them to remember. And then on the third day of a guided reading group, you do some kind of word work or word study activity based on the text.)

My students are all reading fairly low level books, and they finish them pretty quickly. So on the first day of a guided reading group I've usually made the "purpose for reading" some kind of comprehension question or a "pick your favorite page" thing. But then on the second and third day, since my kids have such big issues with fluency, I've asked them to think about reading in a smoother voice or pay attention to the rhyming words they hear.

Apparently this is a no-no, which is kind of a bummer for me, because it was going really well. During literacy coaching today our coach told me that the kids should not be reading the whole book on the first day of guided reading, but honestly, how do you split a 6-page book with one sentence on each page into three days of guided reading?

I think I am really doing my best to stay on top of things. I read all my memos and discuss them thoughtfully with my colleagues. When they started pulling out huge chunks of my AIS group during reading this week, so that I only had 3 kids there instead of my usual 10, I re-arranged my guided reading groups and strategy lessons so that I wouldn't be caught unexpectedly with nothing planned for the kids I had remaining. When we somehow ended up three teaching points short for the month of September, I planned my own mini lessons based on what I thought my kids needed to learn.

But unfortunately, all I ever hear about at my school is covering myself -- making sure I have enough labels on each kid once they come looking at my binders, making sure I'm planning my strategy lessons based off our reading checklist so that I can show evidence of why I decided to teach the lesson in the first place, making sure I'm checking everything off and filling everything out the right way. It makes me feel a little under-valued as a professional, like I can't be trusted to plan anything using my own discretion and judgement about what my students need. It's frustrating because in order to fit everything in (a mini lesson, guided reading, a strategy lesson and a share), I feel like by the end of the period I'm talking so fast and everything devolves into a half-assed, rushed lesson, even when I notice things that I really want to address. In fact, I find myself not really caring whether the kids actually got it or not, as long as I have something to write down on my checklist and labels! And some days I feel like a trained monkey could reel off the Teachers College mini lesson script as well as I can: "Readers, we have been learning that good readers ____. Today I want to teach you that good readers _____. Watch me as I show you how good readers _____. Did you notice how I showed you how good readers _____? Now it's your turn to try it. Take out one book from your book baggie and practice _____. Readers, I noticed how some of you ____. Today and every day I want you to remember that good readers _____. Off you go!" In fact, funny story: Today I sat down to guided reading with one of my beginner ELLs who's reading at a level B. With our beginner ELLs, we're doing a modified guided reading where we read the text aloud to them. So I read him the book, and then he grabbed it from me and said: "Now I will try!" because he's probably heard that "Now it's your turn to try it!" line so many times.

Even though I'm still having a much better time of it this year than last year, I will say this: Last year I had a lot more freedom to be creative, and that showed in my lessons. This year I'm starting to race through everything in order to follow the script, and my lessons are suffering for it.


Ms. M said...

Did your coach give you any ideas as to how to stretch that six page book into three days??? That is crazy. Well, at least your school actually knows what guided reading is. My AP is insisting (this year anyway) that guided reading is a way for you to pre-teach something to a small group that you are going to teach to the whole group tomorrow. It is not reteaching she insisted. When I asked how we might know which students will struggle with some new thing tomorrow she said that it would be based on if they struggled (with some completely unrelated thing yesterday). And we are supposedly a TC school.

(Oh, and last year she said guided reading was some form of what is actually shared reading.)

So, probably little consolation but it could always be worse.

17 (really 15) more years said...

And soon you will find out how this entire workshop model/guided reading crap doesn't work at all. To me, it's geared towards very weak teachers- yes, you read that right- who have not a creative bone in their bodies.

I, for one, am starting to feel more like a statistician than a teacher.

Nacho Lover said...

I hope at some point (maybe at another school someday, one with more sensible admin?) you can only pretend to go along with the school insanity, and do what you and your kids need. until then, know that you are doing your best and your kids know that too. :)

JUSTICE not "just us" said...

Thanks for your post. I am on sabbatical and we are looking at reading programs. This post was most enlightening.

Ms. Peace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ms. Peace said...

I think your literacy coach needs to rethink how she is coaching her teachers to do guided reading. It is ridiculous to stretch a book lower than level "H" across more than one session (save that for read aloud). One of the goals of guided reading is to get our kids reading. That's what they should be doing for the majority of the lesson. We are there to scaffold their experience in an instructional level book. Even within a 15 minute guided reading lesson, kids usually end up reading the book on their own 2-3 times (lower than level F) and at least once for levels F and G after the pre-reading and vocabulary teaching. I might use the same book for the next lesson if there were still points of struggle or to teach a strategy lesson, but I would never stretch it out like that. That will only make kids think that reading is boring.

Em said...

I am new to the guided reading idea. It confounds me. How are the kids supposed to learn to read??? Am I missing something? (I know that's possible!) It's just that it looks like the kids are supposed to figure out how to read just by exposure to text.

I realize I am simplifying this. I may also be offending those who use, understand and believe in guided reading. I mean no offense. I simply admit that I am very confused.

What is guided reading? What about phonemic awareness / phonics ?

Anonymous said...

I some times fail to understand the whole idea behind guided reading coz when i am with a group of children (year 1) the other group of children do tend to disrupt . how do u handle that??

Anonymous said...

That literacy coach is simply wrong. As another (wiser) writer said earlier, below Level H, the books should be read in one session, and then reread for fluency the second day. Only extend to a third day if the students are struggling with a new concept or you are aiming for greater fluency. And yes, they should read lower level books more than once in a session. Your work with fluency is correctly focused - that's the aim of our guided reading instruction - to coach children to make what is written down in text "sound like language" because the brain cannot accurately comprehend word-by-word reading (which I privately refer to as " barking at print"!) Your instincts are right - the bureaucracy is nuts.
-Upstate Reading Specialist