The most frequently discussed subject on the 4-Blocks mailring continues
to be various aspects of the Guided Reading Block. Guided reading is a
hot topic, too, among the so-called "experts," who debate the perfect way
to teach kids to read during the "reading" time of the day. Those of us
who teach 4-Blocks have come to understand that, because of the structure
of our model, we don't have to rely upon the Guided Reading Block to be
the sole approach by which our kids will learn to read. We know that we
are providing a balanced approach, both multi-level and multi-method, so
that we meet the needs of all of our kids throughout the blocks.
The Guided Reading Block, however, still seems to be the most difficult
one for many teachers to adjust to a new way of doing things. This week
one of the faithful 4-Blocks mailring members, Marva, asked this question,
"What is the teacher's role during guided reading? What should I be doing?
I have been going around listening to students individually and talking
to them about their reading. Anything else?" I might be reading more
into Marva's question than she really intends, but I encounter many teachers
who feel that they aren't doing enough during this particular block. Where
once we were at the center of one of our three reading groups, totally
manipulating what was going on in that group while monitoring the 2/3's
of the class as they did "meaningful" seatwork, now we find ourselves at
the center of the lesson only briefly and then relinquishing our "control"
to the students. Scary! Should the kids be given responsibility for practicing
the reading? Can they manage without our close scrutiny? YES!! Let's explore
our roles a bit...
I am exaggerating a bit when I make it sound like the teacher gets to
take a break during the Guided Reading time. No such luck! First of all,
a great deal of pre-planning is necessary in order to pack everything into
the 30-45 minute block that must be done. A lot of decisions must be made.
The following might give you an idea of the planning and decisions that
must be made daily.
The teacher must determine what skill or strategy her class needs as
her mini-lesson during the first segment of time and what piece of text
is most appropriate for the lesson. She must be mindful of the various
genres that should be covered throughout the year--fiction, non-fiction,
poetry, biographies, etc. Also, she must balance between grade-level and
easier material throughout the week. The teacher's pre-reading lesson DAILY
should include the following:
Now you've set the stage for the reading for the day. The next role the
teacher must play is in determining the level of support that the students
need with the particular text that they're tackling that day. Depending
upon how difficult she/he feels the next will be to navigate, the teacher
will likely choose one of the following:
connecting the children to their own prior knowledge about the topic or
helping to establish prior knowledge where the teacher feels they don't
have the background they need. This can be done a number of ways--through
discussion, by using graphic organizers (KWL, webs, etc.), and by reviewing
something the class has studied previously.
presenting or reviewing a limited number of key vocabulary words. (Please
join me in a crusade to rid the world of the age-old assignment of having
kids take the vocabulary words, look them up, copy their definitions, and
make up sentences with them! Promise me you won't do that!) There are so
many fun, painless (for you and the kids!) ways to introduce this vocabulary.
Consider that you're just helping them build a scaffold for their reading.
You need to help them with difficult words that they probably won't know
when they first encounter or attempt to decode them. Help them have an
understanding of what the word means in the context of this piece and what
importance it holds to their understanding. Try a picture walk or a game
of Rivet (see Phonics They Use, Cunningham). Just give them 3-4
words and keep the entire exercise as brief as possible.
delivering a mini-lesson on some skill or strategy that you feel the class
needs to improve their comprehension. The Guided Reading Block is all about
comprehension--not spelling, decoding, contractions, grammar, etc.--just
comprehension. You might be exploring some literary element--plot/sequence,
character, main idea/theme, setting, tone, etc.; something about author's
craft that was effective in this piece; or teaching how to self-monitor
for better comprehension. So many mini-lessons to teach and so little time!
Keep the mini-lesson brief and powerful!
stating a purpose for the reading for that day. Give the kids a definite
focus for their reading. It may be a question about the story, "Read to
find out how George solved his problem." It may be a higher level question,
"When you and your partner finish reading, see if you can find a better
solution to the problem than the way that George solved it." You'll want
to try to keep your purpose statement aligned with the mini-lesson, such
as when teaching sequence/plot, "When you and your partner finish reading,
see if you can close the book and retell the events of the story."
These are some of the ways that the teacher can offer a high level of support
to students as they navigate text. The teacher must make the choice based
on what the students need.
For maximum support, the teacher will read some of the text aloud as students
follow along. This should not occur too frequently, as students need to
develop strategies for decoding text without the teacher always decoding
The teacher may lead the class in a choral reading of the text so that
she and stronger readers in the class offer weaker readers support on their
The teacher may lead the class in echo reading of the text where she reads
the text first (either a sentence or a paragraph at the time) and they
read it right back like an echo. There are variations of this that also
offer support--the girls read and then the boys read, half the class reads
and then the other, etc.
The teacher does a shared reading of the text, reading it first and then
allowing students to join in and out as they feel comfortable.
Next, after the teacher has offered a great deal of support for all
readers, she must choose the next level of support which will allow the
students to practice the text and make their own approximations about words
and meaning. This level of support is likely to be:
The teacher's role is to determine what support everyone needs and how
they're going to get it. Her planning includes a conscious effort to wean
the students from her help towards independence. Tough role!
Partners reading together, strategically pairing stronger and weaker readers
(though not THE strongest and weakest together!).
Play school groups led by a student "teacher" who goes through the paces
that the teacher usually does in setting up the piece to be read and leading
the group to decide whether they will read chorally, softly, or whether
they will read silently and then complete or discuss whatever the teacher
set as their purpose for reading.
A "Three Ring Circus" format where some students may read independently,
some may read with partners, and a small, flexible group may read with
the teacher (NOT round-robin reading!)
Or, mixtures of the above grouping.
During the reading, the teacher can choose among several roles: 1) monitoring
the pairs or groups and making anecdotal notes about certain students,
usually those whose day of the week it is (the Monday kids, the Tuesday
kids, etc.); 2) working with a small, flexible group of students who need
some specific help with the text or with something about it; or 3) in the
beginning of the year, the teacher may just be monitoring and encouraging
students as they learn to work in the types of groups to which they've
The last part of Guided Reading Block is, of course, whole group time
again when everyone comes together to compare or discuss whatever the purpose
of the lesson was. Sometimes this might be to complete the "L" of the KWL
chart, to answer a question, to act out the story, or to write in response
to what was read. The conclusion should be aligned to what was taught as
the mini-lesson and to what was set as the purpose for the reading as often
Considering all of the above, certainly no teacher should feel guilty
that she isn't doing enough during the Guided Reading Block. To the contrary!
The 4-Blocks teacher is constantly making decisions and orchestrating the
children's movement towards independence in their reading. This block does
"feel" different for many teachers, but it doesn't take long to see the
difference--academically and emotionally--in children who share in the responsibility
of teaching and learning.