What if Guided Reading Isn’t What Your Students Need?

Small group means guided reading! More. Further. Quicker!

Never before has there been a push to get students to read as big as the one we’re seeing today.

Somehow the powers that be think it’s ok to push children along before they’re ready, skipping over developmental milestones all in the name of reading earlier. Instead, the opposite has happened. Students are falling behind at a faster rate than ever, and many of them have started to hate small group time because we are pushing them into guided reading too soon!

So how do you know if students are ready for guided reading? What do you do if they aren’t ready for it? Don’t worry, I won’t leave you hanging! I’ll walk you through what I do in the classroom to answer these questions!

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How Do I Know If My Students Aren’t Ready for Guided Reading?

The general definition of guided reading is meeting with a small group of 4-6 students to guide and support them through a text. Students are normally grouped by ability, with classmates who are at a similar reading level. The teacher leads the group through reading strategies, and there are some things that happen before, during, and after reading. The goal of this is to help children learn to use comprehension strategies independently.

This means that guided reading is best for students who have almost mastered certain skills, such as concepts of print, letter identification, letter sounds, basic decoding skills, they can identify a few sight words and are phonologically aware. If you have students who are struggling significantly with everything that I just mentioned, then they are not ready for guided reading.

Yes, we want students to comprehend text, but we cannot ignore foundational decoding skills. When you find that students lack all of the prerequisite skills for reading, you have to go back in and fill in their deficits. Guided reading does not provide systematic word study or explicit teaching, and this is what emergent readers require.

Define Small Groups for Yourself

By now you’ve answered the question of whether your little ones are ready or not for guided reading. Now what?

In some aspects, literacy small groups have almost become synonymous with guided reading. But that’s not entirely accurate. When students come in with immense deficits, we know that they are not ready for guided reading.

So what do we do?

I had to learn to define my small group time for myself, based on the needs of my students. My view of small group time is a bit broader. I view it as a time when the teacher guides students through some sort of learning process when it comes to literacy. This means meeting students where they are and filling in their deficits. My students who are ready for guided reading, participate in guided reading.

For my other students who come to school and they have a lack of the prerequisite literacy skills, they require another plan.

Focused Small Group Instruction

I whole-heartedly believe in small group instruction. It’s my happy place! In order for it to be successful, I must keep my focus in front of me by zeroing in on what they need to learn and practice. It’s important to pinpoint the areas that they are deficient in.

In my classroom this tends to be students who know less than half of the alphabet, they have little if any, concepts of print, word awareness, or phonemic awareness. These students are also unable to recognize sight words. This means that small group time is when we focus on these areas. More often than not, when we do move to text, it contains a few sight words that we’ve been working on for weeks, and words that they can decode.

My favorite books to read on this topic are Small-Group Reading Instruction by Beverly Tyner and Making the Most of Small Groups by Debbi Diller.

It’s ok if your students are not ready for guided reading. It’s our job to help them get there! This is no small feat but it can be accomplished by focusing your small group instruction on their deficits. Once these areas are strengthened, they’ll be exhibiting the characteristics of a reader in no time!

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What if guided reading isn't what your students need? How do you know and what can you do to help your students?
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