Guided Reading in the Upper Grade Classroom: Getting Started
Whether you use a reading workshop approach or not, guided reading is a component of literacy that many K-5 teachers use in their classroom. I want our sessions to have a comfortable feeling where students can ask questions, try new strategies, and work together to become more strategic readers. Setting up this environment takes some work and planning, which is why our class didn't begin meeting until the fourth week of school. I'd like to share some of the fundamentals of getting guided reading off the ground at the beginning of the year.
Planning and Setting Up Guided Reading Sessions
Hopefully your school has a book-room with leveled texts available for checkout. I assumed my school had one when I interviewed and accepted a position. It was only after I accepted that I learned a book-room was not included with the school. The only resources provided were basal leveled trade books. What was I to do?
Knowing that my kids come in more levels than high, medium, and low, I purchased an account with Reading A-Z. If you are not familiar with this wonderful resource, you can print books at various levels and topics for a reasonable price. I printed as many nonfiction topics as possible. With a large stack of single book copies from a printer, I recruited the help of some parent volunteers to help organize it all. I had parents make more copies, fold the books, staple them, place them in a large zip lock bag, and label it with the title and level at the top (Fountas and Pinnell conversion chart). From there all the books were sorted in a tall filing cabinet, A-Z, for easy access.
Each week I take a moment to look through our book collection. I keep record of who I have met with, what book was read, what skill/strategy was worked on, as well as my observation notes from our meetings together. I use this information to select books for the week and create flexible or strategy groupings based on need. I then place guided reading books in a bin for easy access. For now, we start with books that are at the independent level (95% accuracy) because we are focusing on modeling procedures, thinking, talking, and recording our thoughts on paper. Once routines are mastered, students will read books that are at the instructional level (90%-94% accuracy and 75% comprehension) as well as meet with students of varying levels to talk about specific reading strategies.
Also worth noting is how I determine a student's reading level. I have used a variety of tools, including DRA, Rigby's Running Record kit, informal running records, and STAR testing. Using a combination of these assessments has helped me know where to start. Individual conferences helps me change flexible groupings on a regular basis.
Teaching Procedures for Guided Reading Meetings
My first meetings with guided reading groups involved very little reading. Our topics focused on procedures and expectations. Here are some of the things we discussed/modeled in our first meetings together:
~ First, we discussed how our group will come to the meeting area. For us that means sitting next to each other "EEKK" style in a circle as we don't have a guided reading table to work with. "EEKK" stands for elbow to elbow and knee to knee. A spot is left open for me, as I usually join the group last.
~ Students record the title of the book and date in their notebook. We make sure to uppercase the proper letters, spell it correctly, and underline the title each time. This information goes under the guided reading tab in our reader's notebook.
~ We review guided reading guidelines (provided in the notebook), focusing on participating, listening to each other, and valuing each other's questions and inquiries. I really stress that we are never to laugh at someone's question because one laugh might make that student feel too afraid to ask another question again. Unanswered questions from the session go on a board called, "I Wonder" and we research these answers throughout the week.
~ Note taking. For us, rather than write notes in the reader's notebook, we are starting with post-it notes instead. My reasoning is that post-it notes are easy and friendly to move from page to page. Our format for jotting down notes includes a "*" for interesting information learned, a "?" for anything that is confusing, and a "W" for general questions or wonders. As time progresses we will write more notes directly in the reader's notebook.
General Format for Our Meetings Together
What do you know?- On a typical meeting together students are handed a new book after a workshop lesson has been completed. Students grab their reader's notebook, a pencil, and quietly go to the meeting area where they will follow the procedures above. A quick skim through of the book is completed and students write down anything they already know about the topic in their reader's notebook. They can also record vocabulary that troubles them as well. This usually consumes the first 3 to 4 minutes of our meeting, and I may or may not be present during this time.
Reflect- Once I have joined the group I take a second to reflect on our last meeting together. Often students take the book from our last meeting and finish it independently or re-read it for understanding. We take a moment to discuss the previous read before introducing the new one. With the new book I have students share what they already know about the topic or what they would like to know. Many times I get lucky and have an expert at hand! Vocabulary is not necessarily addressed if it is a nonfiction piece, as this information is modeled as one of the features.
Strategy Focus/Talk- From here I usually take a moment to discuss a specific strategy or skill with the group. This may include vocabulary strategies, using nonfiction features, or inferring while we read. This means that I usually model skimming through the book and thinking out loud, followed by reading the first few pages to demonstrate and model the desired skill/strategy. Students are then encouraged to do the same, using post-it notes to record their thinking, as they whisper read or independently read to themselves.
Conference Time- At this point, I move from student to student and ask them to read to me. I may spend one to two minutes with the student and use this as a power conference. Looking at their notes and listening to how they are reading allows me to provide feedback and assess how they are working in that group. I record this information in a notebook as I move from student to student. After making the rounds, I then stop the group to discuss what we have been reading and recording so far. We also take time to compare our notes, which models strong note taking to each other.
Time Required- In total, we usually meet anywhere from 15 minutes to 25 minutes. It just depends on the length of the book and the focus of the meeting. If it is a shorter meeting, I might ask students to take the book with them to read with a partner at a later time.
Building On- After guided reading sessions are underway and established, I usually have students create a chart together based on the reading. This requires students to work together without me, so I utilize parent volunteers if possible. After the chart is completed, it is presented to the class and posted in various hallways around the school.
Finding the Time to Meet
It can be a real challenge teaching in the upper grades. So much content is expected to be covered, yet we don't want learning to feel stressful and rushed. In our room, we utilize three reading/writing blocks throughout the day. This structure allows me to use two of the blocks for reading and writing conferences and one block to meet for guided reading sessions. The last block is at the end of the day, so you may find me on the floor at 2:30 on a Friday afternoon meeting with a guided reading group. Click here to view a detailed schedule in our room.
Photos That Support Guided Reading
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