Guided reading is where differentiated, direct instruction of reading takes place. Teachers gather small groups of children who are working through similar challenges in reading and provide explicit teaching and support. In Fountas and Pinnell’s words, “It is through guided reading… that teachers can show children how to read and can support children as they read” (1996, p. 1). Guided reading, then, is the ideal place to instruct students in each of the four key literacy areas: print conventions, word recognition, comprehension, and writing.
Effective teaching, assessment, and intervention in each of the four key literacy areas are shaped by new understandings of literacy learning.
Understandings of Overall Literacy Development
Our understanding of literacy learning has undergone many changes since the 1960s (Pearson & Stephens, 1994). The focus then was on the coding system of our language. Teachers felt that the primary purpose of literacy instruction was to teach the alphabet and letter-sound correspondence. Therefore, phonics and skills instruction formed the basis of the curriculum. During this time, researchers from several academic disciplines began studying literacy, each from their own discipline’s perspective. Synthesizing the work done by many different fields over the past several decades has helped researchers develop a greater understanding of literacy development and effective teaching practices. From the linguists, psycholinguists, cognitive psychologists, and sociolinguists, we have established new understandings of literacy, as summarized by Pearson and Stephens (1994):
- Children come to school with the ability to construct language.
- Children can more easily relate to reading material that is close to their speaking language and, therefore, learn from it.
- Language has a surface structure and a deep structure; reading material which enhances the reader’s understanding of the deep structure is easier to read.
- Children’s errors in reading reflect their understanding of written language.
- The teacher’s role in instruction has changed from directing children’s learning in literacy to supporting their development in literacy.
- Literacy is a social process.
- Children with book experiences before they enter school will generally do well in school as compared to children with little or no book experiences.
- Schema theory explains the importance of experiences and prior knowledge for comprehension.