Guided Reading: Where you spend your time is where you get your results. Be mindful of how you spend your time by Dr. Sam Bommarito

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Guided Reading: Where you spend your time is where you get your results. Be mindful of how you spend your time by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Regular readers of the blog know that over the past few months I’ve proposed a reading evolution. What this entails is instead of debating we should be discussing. We should be willing to admit weaknesses in our favorite practices and try to address them. We should be acknowledging that the practices we don’t necessarily favor do have some application some of the time. Overall, I suggest we stop the cycle of throwing everything out and starting over every few years. Instead we should learn to tweak things. Today I am going to tell you about the tweaks in practice I suggest teachers consider when using guided reading. I’m basing what I say in part on a presentation I just completed at this year’s Write to Learn Conference in Missouri

Back in the day we used to say where you put your time is where you get your results. This means making sure your time allocations are thought through carefully. At the Write to Learn Conference in Missouri, I noted that researchers like Tim Shanahan have found that research is not kind to guided reading and similar approaches in terms of showing those approaches affect reading achievement. I noted this did not fit my personal experiences. During my Title I days in the late 1990s and early 2000, projects I worked on won national awards for reading achievement gains. These awards known as the Secretaries’ award were given to exceptionally successful Title I programs of the time. Winning these awards placed the programs in the top 1/10 of 1% of all programs in terms of demonstrating gains in reading achievement. We were using guided reading and reading workshop to achieve these goals. Our results would seem to contradict the findings Shanahan cites. But not really. You see I believe what made a difference for our district was that we were fully implementing guided reading as suggested by Fountas and Pinnell. We were using our time in a way that not all programs calling themselves guided reading do. To see what I mean by that let’s look at a recent article by Fountas and Pinnell.

F & P Magazine

As you can see from the article there are five major contexts (components) within a guided reading program only one of which involves using leveled text. Our teachers were trained to make sure that most of the reading done by students was not reading leveled text.  We were making sure our students were exposed to a wide range of reading experiences. I’m positing that many of the programs studied by the research cited by Shanahan are in fact OVERDOING the small group leveled reading part of the guided reading program and UNDERDOING the other parts.

In retrospect, I believe what happened in our project was that the kind of “complex text” and “at or above grade level text” that Shanahan believes is necessary for achievement in reading was, in fact, being used by our staff. Such text easily fit into the read aloud and think aloud portions of guided reading.  Our staff was trained that in any lessons that were developed they should make sure they had a good answer to the question of what work they were leaving for the students and why they were leaving that work. This helped the scaffolding done by our staff to be well thought out and explicit.

Let’s now fast-forward to today and things being said by educators like Burkins and Yaris. I had the good fortune to hear them speak at one of our local ILA meetings and I found what they were saying remarkably in line with what we had been saying to our staff all those years ago. One thing Burkins and Yaris call for is to make sure you are leaving work for the children. Another thing Burkins and Yaris noted really caught my attention. They said we were putting too much of the work being done in guided reading into the small group setting. They maintained that a lot of this work belonged in one of the other five parts of the guided reading program.  By not doing it in the other parts of the guided reading we left ourselves in the dilemma of having to over scaffold in order to get through our small group work. The solution to this is really quite simple.  Do the work in the manner in which Fountas and Pinnell outlined. Allot more time to things like Read Alouds and Think Alouds. These are usually done in a whole group setting. This is exactly the kind of setting Shanahan favors. By doing that, teachers should find by the time they are doing small groups the students will almost be ready to own the strategies being taught. In that way, the small group setting becomes a place where the last part of the gradual release of responsibility occurs. I am proposing that if one studied places where Guided Reading is done in this manner (the manner in which F & P actually outlines) that small group instruction would be found to be an effective last step in the gradual release process. In sum, I’m suggesting we do more of what Shanahan suggested (whole group work using complex text) and less of what some of us are currently doing (small group work that includes work that properly belongs in other places). I asked the teachers at my session to make sure they were using all the parts of guided reading and they were including those complex text and on and above grade level text within those parts.

That’s all for this week’s suggestions for tweaking Guided Reading. Next week I’ll take on the issue of what leveled text to use within the small group component of guided reading. I will also review how to select those texts and the limits and limitations for some of the systems using leveling text. Until then this is Dr. Sam saying:

Happy Reading and Writing


Dr. Sam Bommarito (“tweaker” extraordinaire)

Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

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