Article #30
Paired Reading: With a Little Help from My Friends
Cheryl M. Sigmon

A question came to me last week from Diane, a mailring faithful, who asked, "Maybe you can shed some light on the following for us. During Guided Reading when the students are doing paired reading what suggestions can you give us for how to deal with the beginning readers who finish in two to five minutes. We are having problems doing the anecdotal records due to the constant recurrences of, 'I'm done.' Any suggestions?"

One of the most popular formats for Guided Reading is partner reading, and, although it seems like an easy format to organize, a great deal of forethought and planning are required for success. This week we'll discuss the choices that must be made in order for teachers and students to be successful with this format.

First, we may need to be reminded that there are many formats to choose among for the "during reading" segment of this block. The choice is not a random one. The choice is made according to how much support the students need to be successful in practicing reading the text. Choices range from formats that offer a great deal of support: to those that offer less support and, finally, to having kids read independently. Formats offering maximum support are: teacher read-aloud, shared reading with teacher, and also echo reading with the teacher reading first and kids echoing what was just read. A medium level of support would be such formats as echo reading with teacher being less instrumental (boys then girls, left side of class then right side, etc.), choral reading, playschool groups, or Book Clubs. A lower level of support is offered in partner reading, which is a format that usually requires all students to participate by practicing their reading orally either one at the time or in twos. It is a step away from independent reading.

In the beginning of the school year, classrooms may not be ready for partner reading. Students may need to make social and emotional adjustments to their environment before they can interact one-on-one with another student. Also, they may need a higher level of support with the print before this format can be useful to them.

Next, how children are paired for the partner format is extremely important and takes time and planning. This format, again, is designed to offer support for children. It is a format used when independence in decoding, meaning-making and/or fluency have not been achieved by the whole class. An exception to that would be the use of the format beyond the emergent reading stage because the format is fun, motivational, and interactive for many students. This is often why the format is used into the upper grades even in high achieving classrooms.

In selecting who will read with whom, the teacher should be the one to make this decision. If children are given the freedom to choose a partner, the intent of this format to provide support is often ignored. Children will most often choose their closest friends, regardless of who might need support. Also, another disadvantage to allowing children to choose is that some kids will never be chosen, and we definitely want to avoid the kind of rejection suffered by not being wanted by your peers. So, the teacher makes the choice---purposefully pairing kids.

And, how are the choices made? It is important that the strongest and weakest readers not be placed together as there is usually too much discrepancy in their levels. Often the stronger reader will be impatient with the struggling reader, sometimes not allowing the weaker reader the opportunity to read or sometimes intimidating them in various ways. So, the best solution seems to be pairing kids who are closer in their reading levels---higher achievers with average, high average with lower average, lower-achieving with average, etc. This still allows for the support but narrows the gap so that the support is less obvious.

One mailring member offered a wonderful method for assigning kids. She suggested writing all of the members of the class in rank order from the highest reader to the lowest on a sheet of paper straight down in a column. Then, simply cut the paper exactly in half, and move the sheets side-by-side into two columns. For example, if you have 30 children in your class (heaven forbid this should be your fate!), #1 on your sheet would be the highest reader and #30 at the bottom of the page would be your lowest reader. The cut would be after #15. After placing the columns side-by-side, #1 would be beside #16, #15 would be beside #30 and all of the other numbers would line up accordingly. In a perfect world, no adjustments would be necessary; however, the teacher will likely need to consider personalities and chemistry. Some kids are more nurturing than others and might be placed with kids who are struggling or who aren't usually befriended by lots of children. (Maybe these nurturers will be our future teachers!)

Whatever your method might be, place children with a partner with whom they can get along peacefully and who will either support another child or be supported by another child. Those who are supporting other children are not at a disadvantage in this format. The format is multi-level, offering the higher achievers an opportunity to practice fluency and to practice applying the skill taught that day.

A third important element to remember in planning for partner reading is to be sure to set a purpose for the children to read each day. This serves two purposes. First, setting a purpose keeps the children focused on their reading. Some children are actually overwhelmed by the text on the pages they encounter. They read aimlessly, calling words but not connecting with meaning. A simple purpose established for reading can keep them focused and help them negotiate the text. The purpose set should be aligned with the mini-lesson taught in the introductory part of Guided Reading for maximum benefit of the instruction. Some examples of this might be:



Purpose Setting Statement:

"After you and your partner re-read our story today, I want you to trace your hand on a piece of paper. Put the main character's name in the palm of the hand. Then, write up to 5 things that tell about this character on each of the fingers."



Purpose Setting Statement:

"After you and your partner re-read our story today, I want you both to stop and tell each other what happened first, what happened next and then what happened last."


Sequencing (another way)

Purpose Setting Statement:

"Here is a sentence strip with a sentence that tells what happened in part of our story for today. After you and your partner read the story, I want you to decide where the event on your sentence strip fits in the story. At the end of our partner reading, we'll all gather together at the pocket chart, and see if we can put the story back together."



Purpose Setting Statement:

"After you and your partner read, I want you both to tell if you would have solved the problem in the story the way that Ronald solved it."


Expository Text Structure

Purpose Setting Statement:

"We have made a web on the board showing some of the details about the planet Saturn. As you read with your partner today, find at least two new details that we can add to our web."

So, to reiterate, the first benefit of purpose setting is to provide a guide for students to scaffold their understanding of the text. It is a road map for them. The second purpose served by clearly establishing a purpose for students' reading is to give students a meaningful, productive, engaging task if they should finish reading ahead of the other partners. Teachers should keep in mind that the task should not be time-consuming. The bulk of the "during reading" time should be spent on the actual process of reading---always. But, it's a given fact that kids will not complete their reading at the same time. Some brief activity---discussion, retelling, summarizing, filling in a graphic organizer---that probably takes no more than 5 minutes for even the fastest readers is what the teacher should plan. Teachers should keep in mind that it's not always necessary for all students to complete the task or even to get to the task. Occasionally there won't be time for it and they'll go straight into the whole group closure time before even attempting the task. That's okay! The whole group closure will recap the purpose and the application of the skill/strategy for the kids who haven't gotten to the exercise.

Teachers should steer away from using worksheets to accomplish the purpose setting task. Having kids speaking and listening to each other, engaging each other in the task, is far more valuable. Also, grades should not be related to the task, especially since teachers should not be overly-concerned that all kids complete this task. There is some benefit in completing the task successfully, but the real benefit is in reading the text. That's what really counts---the act of reading.

Once partners are established, how often should the partners be changed---daily, weekly, monthly? We have a saying in our part of the country---"If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" Translating that for our purposes, if two partners are working well together, why change them? They may always read with that partner---daily, weekly, month, for a semester and, maybe even beyond. If teachers feel, however, that their groups need to be rejuvenated, they should feel free to mix and match for that purpose. There is flexibility here.

A last thought about partner reading---The next time your children are reading with partners, stop and think about what is occurring and how wonderful it really is. Look out over the class to see kids working together, to watch them nurturing and supporting each other, and to know that they are accepting responsibility for their own growth. All of these are benefits that are equal to the academic growth which they will experience.

4 Blocks Goodies