Mentoring New Teachers Podcast — Episode III: Effective guided reading groups

May 10th, 2018

This is the third episode of our podcast series with Stenhouse author Shawna Coppola and kindergarten teacher Laura, who is in her first year of teaching.

Mentoring New Teachers Podcast – Episode III: Effective guided reading groups
By Shawna Coppola

In the last episode of our Mentoring New Teachers podcast, kindergarten teacher Laura talked about the high social-emotional demands of her kindergarten students and that she sometimes felt as though she was “drowning in behavior charts.” This led to a discussion about the importance of integrating social-emotional learning throughout the day, and I shared with her how kidwatching and documentation—even when focused on one or two particular students at a time—can help educators root out some of the causes of student behaviors that frequently derail the development of a healthy classroom community.

In this episode, Laura shares how well her students are adjusting to the routines they’ve established around their classroom literacy centers and how frequent check-ins are helping students develop their ability to reflect on their work in peer partnerships. With literacy centers running more smoothly, Laura talks about wanting to begin facilitating guided reading groups so that she may support her students as they read connected text within their zone of proximal development. I explain to her the original intention of guided reading and share how that intention has become somewhat lost as a result of the nature of many existing guided reading programs, and I offer Laura some advice for how to begin the challenging work of facilitating effective guided reading groups without becoming too overwhelmed.

Check out Episode 1 and Episode 2 of this podcast.

RESOURCES & INSPIRATION

Boushey, G., & Moser, J. (2006). The Daily 5. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Burkins, Jan & Melody M. Croft. (2017.) Preventing Misguided Reading: Next Generation Guided Reading Strategies. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

Shawna Coppola:

Hey there.

Laura:

Hello.

SC:

How are you doing?

L:

All right. Plugging through.

SC:

Good, so, well, tell me what’s going on with you and your students?

L:

So, we’ve been making adjustments with, we started up our new like center routine right after break. So, they’ve kind of been learning to do that. And we’ve been really making, I’ve been trying to make sure I really establish like our schedule at this point. Um, and that we’re kind of doing the same thing every day now. And more with that comes like the more parts of the day where they’re able to work independently.

SC:

What do the routines look like for students or what are their expectations?

L:

Right now, it’s like seven different centers, um, that are the same all the time and I’ll just rotate like themes on some of them for each month. But yeah, they work with a partner and we do two rotations. So usually we kind of group and do a small lesson before they start and then I send them and they’re learning, how to like, find their name and look to see what’s next to it. Um, so which center they have. And then I have a shelf that has boxes that match `the pictures on the chart, um, for like puzzles and writing and different things that they go and they pull them out. My principal actually observed that week and was at least impressed that they knew where everything was and were able to get it. Which is nice. And then I’m not super like strict about where in the room they’re working and stuff, except for ones that are kind of stuck in one place, like listening. But as long as they are able to work quietly and they’re staying in one place.

SC:

It sort of reminds me of Daily Five expectations in a sense where like find a good fit spot and stay in one spot the whole time. Is that sort of what you’ve been working off of?

L:

Yeah, I read the Daily Five book at the beginning of the year, actually, and I was like I love a lot of this stuff. But I was finding that having like too many kids doing listening and too many kids reading to a partner, whatever, they just got very like out of control. Um, and, it just was kind of crazy. And when I went to a conference in November, there was a speaker there that was talking about what she does which was like this partner, she has like twelve centers…

SC:

Wow, twelve centers?

L:

Yeah.  And so, I was like, oh, I’ll give that a try. And just working in partners, I had known from doing some other things that I was like I think it might be better. And it has been better, where I just have, I have too many kids who, a lot of boys and a lot who need a lot of work on self-regulation. And so,  it’s made it a lot easier to just pair them so that, for the most part they’re able to work with that one person.

SC:

And I love that idea of pairing them with a student, a classmate, too, because not only are they working on their routines you set up for centers, but just honing their collaboration skills is so great for them. Are these partners that they have chosen or are they strategically arranged partners?

L:

Right now, they’re arranged. Especially with all of the behavior things going on in here.  we’ve talked about how, what we can show that we know how to do each center responsibly. Then I could start having some days where they get to choose their center. Um, and then same thing, once I’ve seen that they’re able to work with their classmates responsibly then we can have some times that they could choose their partner. So, we’re kind of working towards that and trying to keep track of the work, like how well we’re doing. And right now, they actually have like a little, like a punch card to start off to reinforce like checking on did you do your work? Were you working with your partner? Were you staying in one place? Kind of checking back through those things.

SC:

Do they look at that punch card at the end of the whole sort of period?

L:

After each, we do two centers so after each one we check in with that.

SC:

What are the centers that you have set up?

Laura has a variety of literacy centers set up around her classroom that help to reinforce students’ developing literacy skills, including their letter-sound correspondence, their sight-word knowledge, and of course their ability to read and write connected texts of their own choosing.

SC:

So, with the centers what do you think it’s going really, really well for you and the students?

 L:

I think the big part is the, like, organizational, independence part of it. At this point, as long as I’ve moved their cards to where they need to be, pretty much all of them can walk over, know where they need to go and go get what they need. Um, and so that’s been, that didn’t seem to take long, which was awesome. So yeah, that’s definitely the big one. That and just that they’re working well with having partners…

SC:

Have you had any major partner arguments or problems that need to be solved?

L:

I have a couple. There’s one boy and he decided like a few days in that he didn’t want to be with his partner, which there is always the option of them working on some things alone. Some of them will take a day and do something and then be like I don’t want to do this by myself. But, but with him I’m trying to have the partners, also that set up so that I could pull them both and they’d be working on something similar with me.  With him it was hard to figure out somebody that would be able to work well with him that would also fall into that category. Otherwise most of the rest of them have done pretty well.

SC:

Well, that’s great. And so, there’s a lot that seems like it’s going well.  I remember when we were first talking about the kinds of things you were doing your classroom routines were something that they were, they were sort of taking too pretty well and I remember you saying that you love the independence of those Daily Five choices, um, which is nice to see that’s still sort of continuing.  So, I know that initially you had talked about wanting to discuss group or working in small groups?

L:

I’m just trying to like, anticipate starting those small group…and so making sure that I’m well prepared to use that time well was kind of my thinking. And I’ve done, I mean like from student teaching and stuff we did small group work but it ended up just like we almost always did the exact same like reading a little book from the curriculum that they had. And they did it kind of the same way every time. That was that. So, I didn’t get to see like a whole lot of very individualized instruction.

 SC:

Yeah.

SC:

So, are you anticipating that, so when you say working with small groups, are you looking at doing some guided reaching specifically?

L:

Yeah.

SC:

And have you started sort of thinking about what you want to do? Or have you just thought, you know what, this is sort of a missing piece in what I’m doing, and I want to just get some small group guided reading groups started?

L:

I mean to start off I do want to try to make sure we’re just taking a lot of chances to read books that are at their level.  So my plan for now was just that I was going to start off there. But I know there’s a lot of skills that we just have a hard time addressing as a whole group that I would like to be able to also get to during that time.

SC:

What kind of skills?

L:

Just like, doing more work on letters and sounds and kind of the building words part of things. And I mean some of the decoding stuff would be through doing those books together. But just more targeted lessons there. And even pull in some more of the writing stuff that we’re working on, pull that into that…

SC:

So, what have you, from your, sort of school experience, what do you know about guided reading? Did they talk about that a lot? Did they give you readings to do in relation to guided reading? Or people to follow?

L:

Yeah, I mean I felt like they went over a lot of different stuff. But because we went over a lot some of it just wasn’t very much in depth. And I know my school was big on a lot of our learning being out at other schools and seeing what teachers were using.  Although with that it kind of, some of it depended on who you ended up with. We had a couple classes that we spent a lot of time going through like just the different reading skills and strategies to use for those, not necessarily specified at how to do that with a group but at least how to identify the skills that they needed and find different ways to be teaching those. Some of the stuff, I’m just looking back, and I forget way too much too easily.

SC:

Well it’s a lot. I mean if you think about, all the things that you have to keep in your head as a classroom teacher. you know, I’m a literacy specialist, and just focusing on all the literacy components that…you have this person telling you to do all this stuff and then this group of people saying nope, balanced literacy includes these components and it’s really, really overwhelming. And like you said, a lot of times in our university setting, our college setting, we don’t get a lot of in depth practice with them But one of the thing that I know about guided reading…it’s really changed a lot over the years. And so, a lot of times when I talk to teachers about guided reading they’re thinking of certain, you know, particular programs or curriculums that have been really, really popular where guided reading originally was really just meant to be a small group conversation, very sort of I don’t know if informal’s the right word but certainly not a lesson with, you know, we’re going to go over these three skills. Because it’s really meant to be a dynamic sort of session where you’re sort of reading a text together, like you said. It doesn’t even have to be the same text. But sort of reading with the intent to gain meaning from the text. So, of course that means that sometimes you’re working on decoding because you need to understand, or you need to be able to identify those words to gain meaning from the text that sometimes it might be just talking about the text as well. And it’s just really meant to be really dynamic. So one of the things that has worked for me in the past, I know that a lot of programs have, you know these leveled books that they use and that can be useful as well, but I find that using short poems or songs is really useful as a, as sort of a common text can be useful to do during guided reading, particularly because if they’re familiar to the students, especially the songs…you guys sing songs in your class? Do they have those printed out at all?

L:

We’ve done a couple that we’ve, like yeah… or ones that we have as like old posters that we put together and stuff to be able to read.

SC:

Yeah, so like maybe starting with something like that where let’s say you start with, I don’t know, three students and you start with a really, really familiar song. And most of your intent for that meeting would be to just see what they do and that’s how you can sort of build your guided reading curriculum off of just seeing what these, three or four children do as you’re going through that song. And so, one of the things you might notice are oh, well, I’m noticing that this child is following the text as he reads with his finger. And so, if that’s something that you’re noticing happening you can sort of stop and just say oh my gosh…look at what he’s doing with his finger when he’s trying to read this song or when he comes to a part that he may be forgot or wasn’t sure what the word says. Let’s try that and see if that helps us while we’re reading. But starting something that they’re pretty familiar with is a nice way to start because you know, they’ll experience that success right away.

I find that, if I’m focusing on noticing what kids are doing or what they’re not doing that helps me build my curriculum. So, I maybe would have an idea of what I might do, but that often changes when I see what they actually do. So that actually happened to me the other day. I had a group of three girls who I was working with and my intent was to read a particular poem but like, we had a booklet full of poetry that I had created for them with poems that I’d thought they’d enjoy and that I kind of could sense that it was at a good instructional level for them, that most of the words they would know and some they’d have to figure out. And of course, my intention was to start with this particular poem. and they didn’t, you know, they were like oh, can we do this one? And I was like sure, that sounds fine, let’s start with that. Because of course for me engagement makes everything easier for readers. You know, if you’re more engaged in something you’re more likely to want to try to figure it out.

 So, it was actually a great poem to do because there were several tricky words. So, we talked about well, how do you know? How do you figure out what, you know, how do you figure out that word? And they could really help each other out. I mean at one point I sort of sat back and was like, they’re literally teaching each other right now. I mean I don’t even need to…it was so great.

I was just sort of facilitating the conversation. And originally that’s sort of what guided reading was about, was really just facilitating conversation about a text. And really focusing on strategies, but what it sort of transformed into is more of everybody at the same level, and we go in with a lot more preconceived notions of what we’re going to talk about. So, it’s just interesting how it’s evolved. I think some of the intent of guided reading has gotten lost along the way. But I find it really fun. However, I will say that I think a lot of teachers become very overwhelmed with guided reading. So, my question for you is when you’re thinking of working with small groups are you thinking of rotating through so that eventually you get to all the kids in your class? Or are you just thinking of a targeted group of students who could use an extra little boost at this point in time?

 L:

At least to start out I was just going to rotate more through.

SC:

Yeah. Well, being a first-year teacher and sort of having this feeling of being overwhelmed by what you’d learned about guided reading and knowing there’s so much to sort of think about and there are so many resources to go back to, my suggestion to you would be to really give yourself the gift of identifying a particular small group that really just want to work with that could maybe use an extra boost but maybe aren’t, aren’t the biggest challenge for you, just to hone your guided reading sort of skills.  And sort of think about what is working and what’s not working. Because I think what happens is that a lot of teachers, veteran teachers included, they feel this pressure to say, well every child must get guided reading. And that’s not the case. It’s a good tool in our tool box of when we’re thinking of balanced literacy. But it’s not something that I believe is necessary for everybody. Of course, you want to offer something that seems to be beneficial to every child. But I also think that as teachers we expect too much of ourselves. And so especially, like I said, this being your first year, and you feeling a little unfamiliar with guided reading, I would definitely suggest that you just, you know, if you leave here and say I can’t just do one group, at the very least two groups. And just work with those two groups and really sort of reflect on how guided reading is going, what’s working well, what’s not, what’s not working well, where do you need some extra support? And then not feeling so overwhelmed because you have now five guided reading groups that you’re feeling overwhelmed with but rather you might have one or two. So that’s my best advice to you.  What do you think about that?

 L:

I think it’s worth a try.

SC:

I mean I’m still in my infancy stage of teaching, being here almost for two decades. You know, you think about how long many teachers stay in the profession, but I have not once met a teacher who feels like she does everything well. And I think part of the reason for that is because we’re constantly just piling on, especially with literacy.

SC:

You know, there’s so much you could be doing. But you don’t have to do everything. And you don’t have to do everything for every child either. So, I definitely feel strongly that it would be in your best benefit and for your students too to say, you know, I’m going to work with one group.  I’m going to work with one group and really try to, you know, just do a little bit of catching up on some guided reading sources that you might have from your, your year in school, the years that you had in school and some of the readings you had and looking online at what people are doing and sort of picking and choosing things that you think would work for your kids who you know best.

And I actually, I just have to tell you about this amazing source that helped me so much. It’s not overwhelming and it’s one of those books that you can dip in and out. And it’s called Preventing Misguided Readings. Have you heard of that?

L:

I don’t think so.

SC:

What’s really interesting, I did not plan this, I swear. But they have a brand-new version out. So, it’s a book, let me try and find it right now so I can tell you…it really helped me so much. So, it’s called Preventing Misguided Reading and the subtitle is Next Generation Guided Reading Strategies.  You get sort of the history of guided reading and what its intent is. Which I think is really useful because with so many things in education over time it tends to get lost. And then it talks about all of these different ways that you can stay true to that intent and also give kids what they need.

SC:

I just find it really useful. And like I said it’s one of those that you can dip in and out. It’s not one that you have to read from front to back cover.  If you look at it you’ll notice a lot of similarities to Daily Five as well, in terms of talk about strategies and grouping based on, not on level but on what strategy do you want to teach that day or what strategy do you think these students need.  But as you’re thinking about who you think would benefit most from guided reading, working in a small group with you.  Start, start jotting down as you’re, as they’re in stations or as they’re working at that read to self station, what are some of the things that you’re noticing that they are doing. And build off of those. Because as you know, if they experience success first then they’re more likely to try something new and unfamiliar.

L:

Oh, when it started today I was reading a little book to the class before we started, and I let them choose that to go back through if they wanted to and look over. And two of them were sitting there trying to tell the whole story over again.

SC:

Aw, I love that. And that’s even something, you know, even if you had the small group and you said, and you noticed that…let’s say you had a group, a group of students who you just noticed that one of the things that they don’t do is they don’t pay much attention the pictures, that they’re so focused on learning the words even though it’s really hard for them. That they’re not enjoying the reading experience because they’re not sort of practicing that idea that you can read pictures, or that you can retell a story you already know. That could be a guided reading session. It’s just retelling a story they already know. And just talking about how do we do that.

You know it doesn’t’ have to be super formal. And with my guided reason…I shouldn’t call them lessons ‘cause they’re really just sort of conversations…but you know, let’s say I’ll set aside twenty minutes to work with this group. And sometimes after ten minutes we’re like all right, great. You know, it’s just very dynamic. And based on what I’m noticing, where they’re engaged and when we’re sort of done with the conversation. And it’s like there’s no reason to keep going just ‘cause I think it should last twenty minutes. So, you know, sort of being flexible about that is, you know, taking that pressure off of what things have to be like is something that I think we can always practice as teachers.

L:

Mm hmm, yeah.

SC:

Yeah, and as you’re thinking, too, about who you might want to work with or kind of practice this guided reading with and you’re trying to brainstorm possible sessions, you know, possible focuses for a session or you know, these are the things I’m noticing. What do I do with it. Feel free to send those along or take a picture of it if you need someone to sort of bounce ideas off of, too. Cause another thing with teaching is it’s really isolating. And if you don’t have people to bounce ideas off of it can be, it can feel really defeating. And I know you have a great support system in your school, but if you need an outside view I’m happy to take a look or just talk. I have, you know, we can set up just another conversation to kind of troubleshoot. So, does that sound okay?

L:

Yeah.

SC:

Okay, all right. Well, it was great to talk to you. And I’m excited for your kids to sort of get started with the small groups.

 L:

Yeah.

SC:

It was good to see you.

L:

You too.

Entry Filed under: Literacy

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