July 19, 2013

Making Guided Reading Work at the Middle School Level

After providing guided reading instruction last school year to middle school students in grades 5-8 and looking to next school year, I made a list of my top take aways to remember when implementing guided reading in the future.  Here they are:

1.  Flexible Grouping:  Students are benchmarked at the beginning of the school year and guided reading groups are formed within the classroom, a schedule is made for which group to meet with each day, and it is very easy to get into a routine that works.  However, it is so important to constantly be monitoring student growth and adjusting the groups within the class as necessary.  Students should not feel "stuck" in their groups and know that based on what they learn about reading, their groups could change.  You do not have to re-benchmark students every time you change groups.  Changing groups can be based on your informal observations during guided reading and anecdotal notes.  Although standardized assessments such as the Benchmark Assessment that we use at my school to form guided reading groups are great, they are not intended to be administered frequently.  As the teacher, you know your students more than anything, and if you are carefully gathering data through formative assessment as frequently as possible, you are more than qualified to make the decision to re-structure groups based on your knowledge.

2.  Focusing Discussion Within, Beyond, and About the Text:  Through coaching language arts teachers, I get the opportunity to see guided reading in action on a daily basis and also conduct guided reading groups myself on a daily basis.  One trap that I fall into and notice frequently while watching guided reading lessons is that teachers focus in only on within the text knowledge.  It makes sense to make sure that students understand what is going on in the story.  After all, if a student is unable to summarize what went on in the reading for that day, it is highly unlikely that this student will be able to discuss concepts beyond and about the text.  This is not a reason though to only discuss within the text! As a teacher, examine your text introduction and ask yourself if it is supportive enough for students to be successful with the reading: did you introduce vocabulary, front load important themes, give a preview of the reading, etc.  Also, another question to ask yourself is if the text that you selected is simply too hard for the group that you are using the text with.  If that is the case, abandon the guided reading book and start a new one.  In order for students to grow as readers and be able to meet the Common Core State Standards, they NEED to have rich discussion about text beyond what happened in the story.

3.  Use Formative Data to Guide Instruction:  The tricky thing about a guided reading group with 4-6 students is that there could be four students that are all a Level T in these different scenarios:
Student One:  High comprehension, low accuracy
Student Two: Low comprehension, high accuracy
Student Three: Average comprehension, average accuracy
Student Four: At a Level T with high accuracy and high comprehension, but a Level U text is too hard.

Viewing the group as one unit versus individuals could cause students to plateau and not get better at what they need.  Using formative assessment based on what you are noticing about individual students each day is so important because you will be able to use what you learn about students to set goals for them and know what to focus on with each student for next time.  For example, for Student One I would spend some time while the group is reading silently to listen to him/her read out loud and evaluate and prompt for fluency.  An idea for how to assess this can be found at this link:  Assessing Oral Fluency Rubric and a blog post that I've written previously about this topic can be found here:  Blog Post on Assessing Oral Fluency.  However, with Student Two, I would spend time while students are independently reading asking a few comprehension questions and while the group is discussing the text, I would pay close attention to what this student contributes to the discussion.  Other ideas for how to assess students during guided reading would be through guided reading exit slips: Guided Reading Exit Slips Blog Posts and doing reading records: Reading Records Blog Post.  Bottom line, just because students are in the same guided reading group doesn't mean they should be instructed the same.  Use formative data to goal set and figure out what to work on with each student during guided reading.

4.  Expose students to a variety of genres:  I will admit that I'm a realistic fiction girl and when selecting texts for guided reading groups, I tend to select books that I will enjoy reading subconsciously.  Each genre requires students to use different reading skills, and one student may struggle with a fantasy text and strive while reading a biography.  As the teacher, track which genres you read with each group and make a strong effort to expose each group to a variety of genres that will give students many strategies to take into any kind of reading and also give each student to chance to be successful.

5.  Alternate Between Guided Reading and Literature Study: Throughout the school year, middle school students should have a combination of small group reading experiences between guided reading (homogeneous groupings by level) and literature study (heterogeneous groupings with a grade-level text that will illicit rich discussion).  The two different types of small group reading instruction compliment each other and give students different skills that they will need to grow as readers.

6.  Hold Students Accountable:  Once students get to middle school it seems that there are times where they lose the beloved elementary school motivation and excitement toward school.  All of a sudden they could appear "uncool" if they are excited about learning or they have figured out that they don't want to do the "work" in order to learn.  Guided reading at the middle school level isn't effective if students don't do the reading and engage in the discussion, this is pretty obvious.  One way that I have found to get students to see the value in guided reading and get more motivated to do it are to use assessment.  I've used a daily rubric, and I've also used written assessments of books that we've read during guided reading.  Both of these (along with a lot of other Guided Reading goodies) can be found in my TpT product through this link: Guided Reading Organizational Tools.  Another way that I have found to increase motivation is by having students self-reflect on their reading and think and talk about how they are improving as a reader and what they'd still like to work on.

7.  Guided Reading Isn't Equal:  Say that you have 25 students in your 6th grade middle school language arts class and five groups total at the beginning of the year.  At the beginning of the year, according to Fountas and Pinnell's Instructional Level Expectations for Reading, a 6th grade student meets expectations if they are reading at a V level.  Here is a sample of what your groups could potentially look like:

Group One: 4 students, Level R/S
Group Two: 6 students, Level T/U
Group Three: 5 students, Level V
Group Four: 4 students: Level W/X/Y
Group Five: 6 students: Level Z/Z+

It would make sense to some to meet with each group once per week during guided reading.  Right?  Actually, although I think it is important to meet with each group at least weekly, I do not recommend just dividing up the groups and meeting with a group a day.  This part is tricky, and as a teacher, you feel SO SO SO guilty when you aren't able to give all students time that they of course need and deserve from their teacher.  The reality is there is one of you and 25 of them.  The other reality is that Group One and Group Two will never improve as readers if you only meet with them once per week.  So what do you do?  There is no easy solution to this at all.  Sometimes, you are lucky enough to have a reading interventionist or a Special Education teacher that you team teach with to take Group One 3-5 times per week.  The same would go for if you're district had a Gifted and Talented teacher who would take group Five 1-2 times per week.  This would leave you with three groups that you could meet with throughout the week and be an idea situation.  However, I realize that this is not reality.  If it were just me, and I had to make a decision about how to provide guided reading instruction to all five groups, here is what I would try first through setting aside approximately 30 minutes daily for guided reading instruction:

Monday: Group One
Tuesday: Group One
Wednesday: Group One (20 minutes), Group Two (20 minutes)
Thursday: Group Two
Friday: Group Four (20 minutes), Group Five (20 minutes)

It is in no way an ideal schedule, but it is important that an effort is made to close gaps for students reading significantly below grade level while students reading above are still instructed.  One thing that I would probably try once the year got rolling was allowing groups 4 and 5 to meet with one another and have a discussion during guided reading time independently.  I have found that there is so much that students learn from discussion with one another.

Final Thoughts:  So there are my top tips to making guided reading successful at the middle school level.  Guided reading is hard to implement at the middle school level for many reasons, but can make a huge impact if implemented with fidelity.  I hope that some of these tips were useful to you! :)



Kasey

17 comments :

  1. Another great post . . . since I'm coming from elementary to middle school this year, I feel I have a good idea on guided reading, but I like how you set up the groups and times. My classroom is very small and doesn't have tables & furniture aside from their desks, so figuring out the logistics of where to hold it is going to take some thought!

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    1. Hi Jamie,

      You're a middle school literacy coach's dream coming in understanding guided reading and being comfortable doing it! :) Good luck to you with the logistics of it. I'm sure you will figure something out that will make it work!!

      Kasey

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  2. Great post! :) I love how you explained the priorities of Guided Reading.
    ~Brandee
    Creating Lifelong Learners
    Follow me on Bloglovin'

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  3. Awesome post! I'm struggling to figure out how to set my guiding reading up because it is not something my district uses. I need to set up a meeting place, but my room is too small. Any suggestions? I was thinking about just rolling my chair over to their grouped desks, but that takes away the formality of it! Any help would be great! My email is sbrigotti@yahoo.com.

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    1. I definitely feel your pain with the small classroom situation. Of all the classrooms that I coach in, the only teachers who had guided reading tables before last year were the 5th and 6th grade teachers. Once the 7th and 8th grade teachers got their tables, it was problem solving 101 to try to figure out where the tables should go and what that meant for the rest of the students' desks, teacher's desk, etc. In a few cases, the teachers decided to put in much smaller desks or give up their desk entirely. One of my favorite classroom set up is where a teacher put his computer on a small desk in the corner facing the wall with his file cabinets and then put his guided reading table in front of that facing the students. His guided reading table doubled for a small group instruction area during class time and a work spot for him during his prep/before/after school. I don't think that rolling your chair over to group desks would be the worst thing because the fact that you're wanting to do guided reading when your district doesn't use it as a middle school teacher is incredibly awesome in itself. However, if there's ANY way that you can get some sort of a guided reading table and problem solve a place for it by possibly eliminating something else from your classroom, it is well worth it! Good luck to you! :)

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  4. What are the rest of your kids doing during guided reading time? Thanks for your help!

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    1. Hi Laura!

      I run a Reading Workshop so each day begins with a minilesson focused on reading. The minilesson consists of me modeling the concept, the students giving it a try, and the next step is the application. Students not in guided reading would be reading their independent reading books and working on the minilesson application while I'm doing guided reading. I try to also save the last five minutes of Reading Workshop for students to share out what they did for their minilesson application.

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  5. I have used GRL within my 2nd grade classroom effectively for a few years now. Next year, I will be moving to 5th grade and would really like to continue using the GRL assessments. The biggest problem, that I haven't found a solution to yet, is what to do with those students who pass XYZ? If I need to show growth for each student, how can I show it with them maybe entering and exiting at Z? They are strong readers, but I still want them to grow. So, where does everyone go after they have tested out? What activities/lessons has everyone been doing with those that exit out? I would love to hear more.

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    1. I'm not sure if this answers your question, but I would definitely still meet with your highest level readers in guided reading groups. If they're past a Z level, you won't show it with that assessment, but hopefully your district has other assessments that can be used to show and measure growth. Also, if you're still working with those students in small groups, you will definitely be able to identify reading strengths and weaknesses and anecdotally talk about how each student has improved as a reader.

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    2. Thanks for asking that question. Most of my 6th Grade readers are at or above grade level (with many above Z) and I'm wondering if it's worth doing guided reading with them at all, or rather give them more freedom to experiment with their reading through PBL. Still haven't decided but further thoughts much appreciated.

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  6. I'm working my way through all your valuable words of wisdom. Any revisions to that meeting timetable based on an every-other-day-block schedule.

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    1. You're in a unique situation with seeing your students every other day. Keep using trial and error to find a schedule that works best for you!

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  7. Kasey, I have to know if you have other adults in the classroom while you're working with a small group. I've meandered in and out of guided reading groups, but would like to make my way back in that direction. My biggest concern is keeping the other kiddos focused and productive during our group work time. Are you always using novels, or do you work with short stories as well? Where does independent choice reading play into guided reading? Are you asking groups to pick books in the same genre or the same novel? If you're willing to share, I'm curious to know your top ten pointers on making guided reading work in middle school.

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    1. Hi Marcy,

      I've blogged quite a bit about guided reading at the middle school level if you select "guided reading" in the topics bar on my blog, you can look through the other posts I've done. To answer your question though about having other students in the classroom, the answer is no. I work extensively with my students on reading workshop routines from day one of the school year. I also build in independent reading time and monitor very closely before adding in guided reading. When guided reading does get added in, I do at least two lessons on what the rest of the classroom looks like while guided reading is happening. It is definitely one of those instructional contexts where it CAN'T happen unless classroom routines and behaviors are completely in check. Students hear a daily interactive read aloud. Also, a minilesson focused toward a reading skill happens daily. During independent reading time, students are reading their independent reading book, which is a free choice book, and they are applying the minilesson to their independent reading. This sometimes looks like a reading response, sometimes it's filling out a thinkmark, sometimes it's jotting a certain type of thinking down on a Post-it note while reading. During independent reading time is when I am pulling a guided reading group. Also, as the year goes on, I alternate guided reading (students reading with peers at the same level) and literature circles (students reading grade level texts in groups that are self-selected from a choice of texts). I hope this helps a little. I've gotten a lot of questions on this topic lately, so I will do a blog post soon on it. Thanks so much for your questions, and I hope that you stop by my blog again soon! :)

      Kasey

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  8. I second your comment! I teach a reading support class, so I have a room full of 13 kids who will do anything but read while I am working with a small group. I'm trying guided reading for the first time this fall. I've added two stations (vocab work and going on the Newsela website) because the kids simply couldn't sustain attention reading independently when they weren't with me. This week I added exit tickets for independent readers and a list of who is expected to complete them each day. I've made an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of this mess! I do have an aide, but she works with one kid at a time on fluency or decoding and hasn't been a huge help with managing the crowd.

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    1. As I said above, taking the time to establish solid independent reading routines in the classroom is key before I would ever think about adding guided reading in. The ultimate goal is to get students to enjoy reading and get hooked into the habit of reading. We want them to think deeply about their reading, but yet enjoy it and not always associate reading with a task they may perceive as meaningless. It's a balance and a challenge, especially at the middle school level. It is possible though!

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