The question came from Nancy in San Jose on the mailring this week asking, "How do you support the rookiest of readers in the Guided Reading Block?" Admittedly, it takes a great deal of skill and planning on the part of a teacher to support not just the "rookie" or inexperienced readers amongst the class, but the middle level readers, and the experienced readers, too. Letís explore the options for support that are common in the classroom.
Supporting readers through the pre-reading portion of the Guided Reading Block:
Consider that there is grade-level text that is difficult for most or many of the children in the class because of its structure---usually expository (informational). Most children seem to develop a sense of story (narrative) long before they understand the organization of descriptive and expository text. Maybe itís because children are usually exposed to more narrative stories through read-alouds, basal selections and even through television. Narrative text, however, can also be difficult due to its unique structure, complicated story elements, or advanced vocabulary. Whatever the reason for the difficulty that text causes for its readers, there is support that can be offered to ensure the success of the reader.
Some of the difficulty of the text can be supported through the mini-lesson and pre-reading portion of the Guided Reading Block. When text is difficult because of its structure, the teacher may offer a graphic organizer to help students visualize the organizational structure. For young children, the teacher might have them trace their hands on a sheet of paper. In the palm of the print, the topic or main idea may be written. The teacher can guide the students to see how details that support that idea can be written on the fingers where they all relate to the main idea. A web can serve the same purpose and can allow for more details to be added. Many variations of graphic organizers are available to match all types of text. These are wonderful aids to learners who are highly visual.
Other support in the pre-reading portion of the lesson might be in the form of establishing knowledge about the topic to be read or in connecting children to their own prior-knowledge or personal experiences about the topic. Some background in the subject to be studied can greatly enhance a studentís ability to grasp the new information. When it is obvious that a student has no prior knowledge about a subject, an effective strategy might be to provide opportunities to share some information with this student prior to introducing the topic to the whole class. This allows the student to have information that will allow him to participate in discussion with the other students.
Supporting Readers through the Format Chosen for Reading:
There are numerous formats for grouping students for reading which can provide appropriate levels of support for their efforts. The greatest level of support would be for the teacher to read the text aloud to the students with the students tracking along in copies of the same text. This level of support should not always be chosen as students must at some point become responsible for decoding text on their own---one of the real purposes of reading. This format can occasionally be selected for very difficult text or can be used just to get kids "started" with their reading.
Almost as much support can be offered through whole group types of support such as choral reading and echo reading. Here the stronger readers carry the less able readers by decoding words and setting the pace of the reading. When text is read, reread, and reread again, the less able readers begin to develop some fluency.
More individualized assistance can be offered by pairing students. The best and weakest readers are not placed together as that discrepancy may be too great. The higher achieving readers are placed with average/average-high readers. The lower achievers are placed with the average readers. Children who are natural "nurturers," those who have the makings of teachers, can support those students who take a bit more patience and understanding. Both types are found in almost every class. The teacher must model what the partners are to do. The situation should not exist where the stronger reader always reads to the weaker reader. The responsibility of reading should be shared. In difficult situations where one partner must definitely provide the major support, the teacher could orchestrate these scenarios:
- Give all students one of two symbols (a circle/square or a blue/red sticky note). Without telling students that the symbols are intentionally given to certain students, teachers could tell the students with the circles to read each paper/line/paragraph (whatever is appropriate) first and then for the students with the other symbol or color to read the same text after the first student---a variation of echo reading with partners. This way the stronger students provide the models and will develop a greater level of fluency as the weaker students negotiate the text.
- Allow the partners to share one book. Give the stronger student the task of tracking the print with his finger or a pointer given to that student for that dayís reading while both students share in reading. Or, the stronger student may be asked to read and track first with the pointer, followed by having the weaker student read and point.
- Ask some partner groups to read in unison with their whisper voices so that the stronger reader helps to set the pace and helps with decoding some of the difficult words.
Playschool groups can offer this same type of support. Usually two choices are given to playschool group members---and this choice is often made by the teacher based on the support needed by each group member. If all group members can read the text independently, the group can read silently and can then pursue the purpose for reading set by the teacher. If any of the group members are unable to read the text, the teacher should suggest that the group read the text together with their whisper voices led by the student "teacher" in the group.
The during reading part of Guided Reading can also be a time that allows the teacher to work with individuals, pairs or small groups of students. These offerings of assistance should remain flexible, so that the same student or students are not always pulled to work with the teacher. This a certainly a time that the rookie reader can get individualized assistance in addition to the other conference time that the teacher can work one-on-one with students.
The really difficult part of planning for the Guided Reading Block is the decision about what level of support must be offered to each class member, not just to most of the students. These are examples of support offered over the course of the week in one class:
Day One - Grade Level Text
Text: expository from science basal
Format: Teacher sets up lesson by establishing prior knowledge, by using a graphic organizer, and then reads aloud portion of chapter.
Lesson also includes choral reading of remainder of chapter by all class members.
Day Two - Grade Level Text
Text: expository from science basal
Format: Class reads introduction to the same text from the previous day chorally and then the remainder of the text is read by partners.
Day Three - Grade Level Text
Text: expository from science basal
Format: Partners read entire selection
Day Four - Below-Grade Level Text
Text: narrative in big book
Format: Shared reading (teacher reads aloud first for enjoyment and then rereads, inviting students to read along in big book)
Day Five - Below-Grade Level Text
Text: narrative in multiple copies of same big book title
Format: Students in playschool groups read entire selection; two playschool groups read in unison to support weak readers among them; two groups read silently since all readers are felt able to read the selection independently.
Therefore, the teacher can mix and match daily or over the course of the week in any way that supports each individual in the class and in ways that offer desirable variety. It is always a challenge to the teacher to assess those individual needs and to orchestrate the support. It isnít easy, but it is effective. Students often are successful in reaching other students in ways that the teacher can not. Within the framework of 4-Blocks, orchestrating these opportunities for students is part of the multi-approach provided. Whatever might work for an individual student is what the teacher will want to try to guarantee success with print.
Addressing the "rookie readers" specifically, these are among the checklist to consult in providing the right support:
- provided prior knowledge about the topic in the text?
- made an attempt to connect the student to some personal connection he/she may have about the topic in the text?
- presented the text in concrete, visual terms through a graphic organizer or some such strategy?
- provided assistance to the student by pairing with a stronger partner, supportive playschool members, or by the whole class support methods?
- found a nurturing student to serve as the partner?
- offered the student some personal assistance at another appropriate time?
- considered that other blocks are also providing support for this student? Remember that all four blocks are approaches to teach kids to read. Hopefully one of these will be the approach through which this student will be successful.
- taken opportunities during the one-on-one conferences to support this student---Self-Selected Reading conference time and the Writing Block conference, too?
Experience the great variety of formats in your classroom this week! See the difference these formats can make for your students.