Is Guided Reading the best use of small-group time?

Posted by Brainspring on 5th Nov 2014

Hi everyone,

It’s awesome to see that so many of you liked and shared the multisensory activities from this week!  I am especially thankful to Dite this week because the day after I posted her activity for voiced/unvoiced consonants I noticed one of my students confusing many of those sounds during dictation.  Thankfully, I know just what activity I will be adding to our next session!


How do you view Guided Reading?

Many teachers and administrators pose questions to me about Guided Reading.   When suggesting to teachers and administrators that their struggling readers need more focused, intensive Phonics First instruction in a small-group setting, I often hear that most of the small-group time teachers have is supposed to be dedicated to Guided Reading.

What’s interesting is that teachers and administrators often have different ideas of what that means.  Administrators often think that struggling students are getting the instruction they need through their Guided Reading time.  Teachers, however, often think Guided Reading is not benefiting their struggling students and they would like to free up Guided Reading time and focus on basic reading skills instead with a program like Phonics First.

Is it difficult to fit small-group time into your classroom schedule?

Are you required to do Guided Reading? 

What are your thoughts on Guided Reading for struggling students? 


So who’s right?


What is Guided Reading?

There isn’t a simple answer to the question.  The answer depends a lot on the skill level of the students and the amount of instructional flexibility allowed to the teacher, but part of the answer lies in the basis of Guided Reading and its purpose.

This article from Scholastic accurately sums up what Guided Reading is:

“Guided reading is an instructional approach that involves a teacher working with a small group of students who demonstrate similar reading behaviors and can all read similar levels of texts.  The text is easy enough for students to read with your skillful support.  The text offers challenges and opportunities for problem-solving, but is easy enough for students to read with some fluency.  You choose selections that help students expand their strategies.”

Right away I notice a key idea that could prevent struggling readers from fully benefiting from Guided Reading: they need to be able to read the text fluently.  If students are struggling with decoding and the basics of reading they will not be able to read a text fluently.  Likewise, when students are struggling with decoding, all their energy is going into figuring out what the words are.  There is not much left for focusing on what the words mean (comprehension).

I also notice the text should offer opportunities for problem-solving.  Once again, students who cannot accurately and automatically decode are not ready for problem-solving strategies.  Gaining automaticity with phonics skills, increasing decoding speed and developing fluency are prerequisites for Guided Reading.  Those skills are best developed with explicit, systematic, phonics instruction, like Phonics First Foundations.

If you use Guided Reading with struggling readers, what have you noticed about how those groups differ from on- or above-level groups?


What is the Purpose of Guided Reading?

Keeping these things in mind, let’s now think about the purpose of Guided Reading to determine when it’s appropriate and when it might not be.  Once again, Scholastic does a nice job of summing up the purpose of Guided Reading:

“You select books that students can read with about 90 percent accuracy.  Students can understand and enjoy the story because it’s accessible to them through their own strategies, supported by your introduction.  They focus on meaning but use problem-solving strategies to figure out words they don’t know, deal with difficult sentence structure, and understand concepts or ideas they have never before encountered in print.”

Examining the purpose again shows me that decoding and some level of fluency are necessary in order for students to truly benefit from the Guided Reading experience.   Students need to be able to access the text through their own strategies.  Many struggling readers do not yet have the strategies and skills that make the text accessible.  The purpose of Guided Reading focuses on meaning and building students repertoire of problem-solving skills, which would be greatly beneficial to on- or above-level readers.  Struggling readers need to develop a solid foundation in reading skills before they will be able to attend to the higher-level skills developed by Guided Reading.

In your school, are you able to choose what to implement in your small group time or is it determined by administration?

If you had the flexibility to choose how to spend your small group time, what would you choose to focus on with your struggling readers? 


When deciding if Guided Reading is the most beneficial use of small-group reading time, or if another type of instruction might be more appropriate, teachers and administrators should keep in mind the purpose of Guided Reading and examine if it matches the skill level of the students, especially those who struggle with reading.


What are your thoughts and experiences with Guided Reading, especially in regard to struggling readers?

Please share!  This is an important conversation that we need to be having in our schools in order to develop an understand of what truly works for struggling readers and what time and resources we need to implement it.

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