You asked some great questions!
First, you wanted some additional clarification about how my guided reading is different from my strategy groups. You understood that my strategy groups focused on specific skills or concepts on which students need additional support, but you wanted to know if I also focused on a specific skill or strategy during guided reading.
Here is my answer. I do focus on specific skills during guided reading. However, the skills are not always based on the specific areas in which students are struggling. The skills that I focus on in guided reading are often specific to the genre or unit we are studying as a whole class so that I can reinforce teaching points I first introduced in mini-lessons. New vocabulary and "tricky parts" are also introduced ahead of time.
In comparison, the skills I focus on in strategy lessons are things that I have noticed students struggling with during IDR tasks, previous guided reading lessons, or individual conferences. In a strategy lesson, I go into the lesson with a specific teaching point in mind. In a guided reading lesson, the book introduction actually takes up most of the time so that students are supported when reading the book on their own. However, a teaching point often arises from what I notice as I work with the students in the group. In this case, the teaching point actually takes place at the end of the guided reading lesson.
You also asked about conferring. You wanted to know if I had specific goals set prior to meeting with students in individual conferences. The answer is sometimes yes, and sometimes no. When conferring, there are 3 types of conferences I hold.
1. The Compliment Conference: In this type of conference I ask questions of the reader, name a strategy the child is using, and say “Good Job!” I like to do lots of these at the beginning of the year to help my students feel comfortable and develop a positive attitude about conferring.
2. The Coaching Conference: In this type of conference, I already know what my teaching point will be and want to see how the student is doing with a specific skill or strategy. These conferences are somewhat planned ahead of time since I already have in mind what I want to work on with the reader.
3. The Teach, Research, & Decide Conference: This type of conference is often the most difficult because I go into it with no specific teaching point in mind. Instead I am looking for something to teach the reader. It actually takes the form of a “mini” mini-lesson. First I research the reader. I may look at post-its, ask the reader to retell, listen to the reader read aloud, or ask an open ended question like “How’s it going?" Then I support the reader by explicitly naming what the child is already doing well and give a clear compliment. Next comes the hard part. I must decide what to teach. I determine a teaching point and decide how I will teach it (demonstration, guided practice, explicitly telling him, inquiry). I try to connect the teaching point to what the child has been doing or refer to a strategy I have taught in a previous mini-lesson. After renaming the strategy I have taught, I encourage the student to try using it today and in the future.
I know that this is a long-winded answer, but I hope that it has helped clear up some of your questions!
Thanks for posting!
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