Over the years I've had a love-hate relationship with guided reading. I loved working with the differentiated groups that helped my students gain the comprehension strategies and vocabulary needed to become confident, fluent readers. On the flip side, I hated how often guided reading made me feel like a failure. I'd make great lesson plans but what I planned on paper never matched the reality. Trying to fit in all my guided reading groups in the midst of readers workshop seemed impossible, and I worried I was letting students down. Long story short, I hated how overwhelmed guided reading made me feel, was embarrassed to admit it, and wasn't quite sure what to do about it.
Over the years I took several, small steps that made guided reading easier. First, I got my organization under control. In my post "Guided Reading Organization Made Easy," I share how. At this point I felt like I had my table setup, books, lesson planner, and guided reading binder under control.
Next, I realized that I could get my reading groups up and running quickly which I shared in my post from last fall, "Tips for Getting Your Guided Reading Groups Started Quickly." Below are images from the tips featured in that post.
I was organized and I had my groups created, but I was still having trouble meeting with all students. I realized how bad it was when at one point last year a student asked me if I was going to meet with his group this month! Yikes! Fortunately, thanks to help from my school's reading specialists and literacy consultant Jan Richardson's video series, Next Step Guided Reading in Action: Grades 3 & Up, I feel like I've learned how to streamline my guided reading lessons so I'm able to meet with more groups more often. This year my group lessons aren't long and drawn out like they used to be, but short, focused, and purposeful. This structured plan allows me to meet with two or three groups of third-graders each day and still have time to conference with individual students.
The guiding principles below helped me streamline my guided reading lessons. While these management strategies may not work for every situation (and they may seem like common to others!), they're what helped me see guided reading in a whole new light.
Perhaps other teachers are able to meet with more groups, more often, but I was stopped setting myself up for failure once I realized it just wasn't possible for me to meet with each group three to four times a week and still have time to conference with individual students. Now I plan to meet with each group twice a week and check in with my two lowest groups a third time. When I'm not meeting with groups, I'm conferencing with individual students who need extra support.
The length of my lessons was my biggest downfall. Now I break each guided reading lesson into two parts that last no more than fifteen to twenty minutes. Less time with me means more time for them to practice their actual reading!
I identify my teaching points ahead of time and stick to them. In the past I would let those teachable moments I hadn't planned for to take over. By staying focused on one to two points, my student leave the table with a much better idea of what they should be focusing on while they read.
While students are silently reading the book, I listen in on one student at a time. After the student reads, I (not so quietly) compliment him on something he did well. I'll also model a reading behavior that I then ask the student to repeat. I call this a double-dip, because while the other students are reading to themselves at the table, they are also hearing and assimilating what I am saying. I can always be guaranteed that no matter what compliment or suggestion I've given one student, the subsequent students attempt to emulate whatever behavior was noted.
While I listen to an individual reader I do a running record. I use data from running records to check on student growth and to help me plan subsequent lessons.
I used to discuss the stories in-depth with students and then have them write out and share answers to comprehension questions — a very time consuming process. Now on day two I use close reading strategies to focus and gather evidence of understanding from one small part of the text. This takes much less time and seems to have deepened my students' understanding of not only the text, but how they should be approaching it as readers.
Below are some of the other resources I've created to use during guided reading. Click on each image to download a printable copy.
I use these checklists to keep notes on individual students during the read aloud, or when I conference with them individually.
While I'm still not perfect at guided reading, I feel like I now have developed a streamlined, methodical system that lets me be more effective than I was in the past. Thanks to working in a realistic, two-day framework, I now feel like guided reading is manageable and I hope you'll find a tip or two to make your small group work easier this year.
I'd love to hear your best advice for making guided reading manageable in the comment section below!
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