Article #6
The Teacher's Roles
Cheryl M. Sigmon

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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."
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:
  • 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 for them.
  • 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 first attempt.
  • 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.
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.

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:

  • 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.
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!

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 been assigned.

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 as possible.

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.

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