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! :)