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NYC Helpline: How To: Teach Literacy

What Is Guided Reading and Why Should I Use It in My Classroom? Lisa North

Guided Reading is one of the components of a Balanced Literacy Program. In a balanced literacy program students are taught a "balance" of phonics and reading strategies to help them learn to read. Writing and reading are taught mostly by doing reading and writing and teacher modeling and not by students filling in many worksheets on separate skills. Much time in the school day is devoted to student reading and writing on the student's own level. This is because people usually get better at any skill by practicing a lot. You get better at riding a bicycle by riding a bicycle, not by doing exercises to practice balance. Students should be reading and writing for a large part of the literacy block.

What is Guided Reading?

Guided reading is a form of grouping for instruction. Teachers must make decisions about what each student knows and does not know about reading. The teacher then makes groups of from 4 to 6 students with similar needs. For example a group of children might need to work on " stopping when what they read does not make sense." The teacher might work with a group for 3 to 4 weeks and then reassign the groups based on what each child now needs to work on. The reading groups are not static, that is students move around in different groups every month or so.

The groups are called "Guided" because the teacher guides the students as they read. The groups are small so that the teacher can interact with each child during the approximately 15 minute lesson. In the beginning of the lesson the teacher usually discusses what the book is about and gives the students any background knowledge they might think the students need to understand the text. She/he might say she has noticed that the students in this group sometimes do not stop when what they read does not make sense. The teacher could explain how we need to listen to ourselves as we read. Examples could be given. If reading a story about having fun at the park and someone reads, First I went on the slide and then I got on the school. The reader should stop and think "that does not make sense." I had better reread that and think what would make sense and check the word more closely. Teachers could then have the students read their books. Little "post-its" could be given out for the students to mark wherever they read something that does not make sense and they have gone back to reread. After reading the students can show one of the places they marked and discuss how they solved their "problem."

Guided reading is a very effective way of teaching reading because instruction takes place on the students own level. In "whole" class instruction which often follows a scripted program, the instruction is either above the students level or below of a large proportion of the class. Think of a child learning to ride a bicycle. It will be much harder to learn on a 10 speed adult bike. In fact the child just might give up and not even try anymore. Now think about giving the child a small bike with training wheels. Instruction is taking place on the child's correct level. Now think of the child that already knows how to ride a bike, but is given only the bicycle with training wheels. They will get bored and either cause trouble or not want to ride anymore. So with reading instruction. Students must be grouped at their own level for reading instruction. 

Many teachers have "grouped" for instruction for many years. Before though, the groups were often large and static. You were in group one or two, or the bluebirds or robins for the whole year. The teacher followed a "program." Once you were on "that" program, that is where you stayed for the whole year. Guided reading groups allow students to make large gains and move around different groups based on what they need at the time. Because the groups are small the teacher can base the instruction more on what they actually need. 

How do I decide how to put which students into which groups? 

This is done after the teacher listens to each child read and takes a "running record" of their reading. By "analyzing" the running record, the teacher can see what the students knows and does not know. 


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