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In any literacy programme, guided reading has a central role in leading students towards independence in reading. The focused small-group setting enables the teacher to give strategic instruction in making meaning from and thinking critically about increasingly complex texts (and to teach or reinforce decoding strategies when necessary). The teacher can work with each student at an appropriate level to meet their specific learning needs, as identified by assessment evidence. Further benefits of this approach are described on page 7 of Guided Reading: Years 5 to 8.
Guided reading and shared reading have much in common. Both approaches aim to make reading purposeful and enjoyable for students by helping them make meaning from texts, deepening their comprehension, and developing their critical-thinking skills. The key distinction between the two approaches is this: in shared reading, the teacher takes greater responsibility for the reading and reads the text aloud, whereas in guided reading the teacher helps the students read the text themselves. During guided reading, students often apply or practise reading strategies and skills that have been introduced to them through shared reading.
In a guided reading session, the teacher works with a small group of students who have similar instructional needs so that they are supported in reading a text successfully by themselves. Each student has a copy of the text. It should contain some challenges at a level that the students can manage as they individually read the text in the supportive situation. It would generally contain fewer challenges than a shared reading text for that group.
Guided reading sessions vary in length, and teachers generally schedule more sessions per week for students who need more support. Forming groups for guided reading requires thought and judgment. (Guided Reading: Years 5 to 8 gives advice about grouping on pages 18–19 and on the duration and frequency of guided reading sessions on page 17.)
Both the teacher and the students need to be clear about why they are reading the text. The teacher’s instructional objective will be based on their analysis of information about these students’ current achievement in reading. Sometimes the same objective may be explored over several sessions, using the same text or different texts. (For examples of teachers’ objectives or purposes for guided reading, refer to Guided Reading: Years 5 to 8, pages 33–34.)
Text selection is a crucial step. Teachers base their selection on their instructional objectives and on their knowledge of the learners in the group, checking that the texts are appropriate to the students’ learning needs and to their backgrounds, interests, and experiences. The chosen text may also have links to current crosscurricular topics. Usually the text will be new to the students, although texts can be revisited for a particular learning purpose. Texts for guided reading should generally be at a level where the students have no more than five to ten difficulties in every hundred words. (For more information about choosing appropriate texts and identifying supports and challenges, refer to Guided Reading: Years 5 to 8, pages 34–40.)
Planning for the session is based on the instructional objective(s) and includes:
See also Guided Reading: Years 5 to 8, pages 41–42.
The introduction to the session should be brief and build a sense of expectancy. The teacher shares the learning goal and the content-related purpose for reading and relates the text to the students’ backgrounds, interests, and experiences or to the current classroom topic. “At times, it is useful to involve the students in establishing [the learning goal] for the reading” (Guided Reading: Years 5 to 8, page 43).
The teacher may discuss or explain key text features or potential challenges in the text, such as unfamiliar names, relevant background information, or technical terms. A chart or whiteboard can be used to provide visual support. For example, key words can be written on the board for reference during the reading and discussion. The teacher might also have the students predict the possible content of the text or make links to the relevant background and literacy experiences that they bring to the text.
The teacher then sets a reading task by directing the group to read the text or a section of it and telling them what they are to think about or find out. If the text has been chunked, the students need a different task that links to the shared goal for reading each section of the text. By the time the students begin reading the text, they should be motivated and enthusiastic.
The students take responsibility for reading the text by themselves. It is generally expected that year 5 to 8 students read silently during guided reading. In general, students in a guided reading group should read aloud only when they are citing evidence to support their opinion or comment or when the teacher asks one child to read to them quietly, for monitoring purposes. The reading will usually be chunked into two or more sections, with a brief discussion between sections to sustain comprehension and encourage critical thinking. The discussion will relate to the learning goal(s) and/or the purpose(s) for reading.
During the reading, while monitoring each member of the group, the teacher should intervene only when necessary. A short, purposeful task for those who are likely to finish earlier than others is useful. For example, early finishers could find and think about a part of the text they really like or form questions to ask others about the text.
Generating purposeful and stimulating conversation is perhaps the greatest challenge in guided reading. Discussing each section as it is read helps students to gradually develop an overall understanding of the text. Using an easel or whiteboard in guided reading gives a visual focus.
The teacher’s role in discussion is to:
It is important that the teacher closely monitors the progress of any students who are still establishing their decoding skills and developing basic reading strategies or who are new learners of English. At a time when the rest of the guided reading group is reading a set part of the text silently, the target student can be asked to read the set part quietly aloud to the teacher.
Reading aloud does not mean “round robin” reading. “Round robin” reading, where each student takes a turn at reading aloud, is never appropriate in guided reading. It prevents each student from processing the text and constructing meaning independently, distracts and bores other students, and obscures meaning.
At the end of a guided reading session, it is important to review, with the group, their learning goal and purpose for reading and to ensure that both have been met. This may include revisiting the group’s initial predictions about the text and reconsidering them in the light of subsequent reading, or it may include reflecting on the overall theme of the text.
It’s also valuable to encourage the students to think and talk about their learning so that they extend their awareness of how to use and control what they know and can do as developing readers. Students in years 5 to 8 need to be able to describe the reading strategies that they use and, increasingly, to monitor their own progress.
After a guided reading session, the teacher usually jots down observations on individual students’ progress and teaching points for the future. The students often go on to independent literacy activities to reinforce or extend what they have learned from the reading. (For examples of follow-up activities, refer to Guided Reading: Years 5 to 8, pages 55–56.)
Generally, the teacher plans all of these activities beforehand to help meet the objectives of the session. Sometimes a teacher identifies an immediate need during the session and adapts the plan to take in this need. However, the reading is often sufficient in itself, and the best follow-up activity may be an independent rereading of the text.
In guided reading sessions, the teacher works with one reading group at a time. This means that the other students need to be engaged, independently or in pairs or groups, in well-planned activities that reinforce their literacy knowledge, strategies, and awareness. Some of these activities will arise from previous learning in shared or guided reading. For example, the students could work on a computer, perhaps using a commercially produced CD-ROM, with the goal of developing and demonstrating specific reading or writing skills that they will need for research in social studies. (For more examples of independent literacy tasks for students, refer to Guided Reading: Years 5 to 8, pages 20–22.)