Article #22
So You're Still Not Sure About the Guided Reading?
Cheryl M. Sigmon

Every couple of weeks the discussion on the 4-Blocks mailring turns again to the great debate about the 4-Blocks Guided Reading Block. There are still many nay-sayers among us who just can't believe that their students can grow as readers with this type of guided reading. There is a great deal of data to support that students do, in fact, grow even faster and stronger with this kind of guided reading, and many of us have offered personal testimony to that fact. However, it still seems to require a leap of faith that some just can't make. Even though I'll never convince them all, I'm willing to continue to answer the questions that many of our readers have. Who knows--maybe we'll even persuade a few to give it a try! Here are some of the common questions asked and my answers to them:

"What different formats are used for the students to read during the Guided Reading Block?"

There is so much variety in the Guided Reading Block. After the teacher determines the level of support that the students need, the teacher groups kids appropriately. The formats could be reading with a partner, in playschool groups, individually, in Book Club groups, or with the teacher as a whole group or small group.

"Shouldn't I have my higher achievers reading something at their own instructional levels during Guided Reading?"

Not if you've implemented all four blocks of the model! Your students who are reading significantly higher than grade level will receive the support they need to improve by reading at their own independent and instructional levels during Self-Selected Reading Block. What they'll learn during Guided Reading are the valuable comprehension skills and strategies that they'll want and need to apply independently during the SSR Block. The fact that they are applying it to easier material during the Guided Reading Block is of little consequence. Additionally, they will build fluency with the easier text while other students may be struggling to get meaning from the text or to negotiate the text at all.

"What skills and strategies do I need to teach during my mini-lesson in Guided Reading?"

You'll want to teach all of the skills and strategies that directly affect comprehension. What a real luxury to get to concentrate only on comprehension during this time. Once upon a time, we tried to teach it all during this segment of our day--grammar, mechanics, spelling, decoding, vocabulary, contractions, etc., etc. Now we have three other blocks to share the load! Take full advantage of this to teach what your curriculum guides you to teach. Usually districts and school systems have curriculum guides of skills and strategies appropriate for each grade level. Plug those into the mini-lessons. They'll be such things as: story elements (plot, setting, characters, conflict/resolution, mood, tone), sequence, cause/effect, drawing conclusions, main idea, supporting details, figurative language, style, author's purpose, among many others.

If you happen to be in a school or district that offers no curriculum or a severely deficient or outdated curriculum, perhaps you're lucky enough to at least have a basal program that will provide a menu of comprehension skills from which you can choose what your kids need most.

"Why is this block even called 'Guided Reading' when it doesn't offer leveled reading in small groups?"

Many people tend to narrow their definition of Guided Reading to make it synonymous with ability groups reading under the teacher's guidance. In the strictest sense, Guided Reading is just what it says it is--offering the reader guidance and support for reading. That's exactly what occurs in a 4-Blocks Guided Reading Block. Kids read in a variety of formats matched to the level of support that they need. Sometimes it might be a small group working with the teacher, but often it's reading with a partner, reading in a playschool group, or reading chorally with the whole class. Whatever it takes is what's offered! All kids are guided and supported---not always by the teacher (the sage on the stage), sometimes by their peers with the teacher as the "guide on the side."

"If I am presently using a method of leveled books was all that time spent organizing them a total waste?"

No! Several things will work to your adavantage. 1) You can now use those leveled books in your Book Club groups if you'd like, where kids do read occasionally in different books at different levels. 2) You can use these books in your book baskets for SSR Block (scattered among all the baskets) to assure that you have an appropriate range of readability levels included. 3) If you have enough copies, you can use the easier books among the leveled ones as your easier day reading in Guided Reading. 4) Also, the expertise you've acquired from learning to level books will greatly help you connect kids to the right books in their SSR reading.

I don't know that I know of anyone who has really given it an honest try who has ever returned to the traditional reading method. This model does require that you re-think your approach. Rest assured, however, that the results will please you when you see that your higher achievers, middle achievers, and low achievers are all growing and improving!

I hope that some of the FAQs in this column have provided you with some helpful information---maybe even for those of you who have long been convinced that the 4-Blocks Guided Reading is good for kids. You're sure to see Guided Reading topics resurface in this column in the future.

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