Goodbye, Guided Reading

 For 10 years, I built a balanced literacy classroom with an emphasis on
guided reading.  I worked hard to master the art of intentional small
groups, knowing each of my kids levels, their strengths and weaknesses, and
whipping out a new guided reading schedule in my sleep.

And after 10 years, I had it down pat for the most part.  Doing guided
reading was in my blood.  I believed in it because we saw growth in
students.   It was what I knew how to do…and I was good at it.

And then I went through my first science of reading training and realized the
guided reading model wasn’t evidence based.  The Fountas and Pinnel
levelized readers were not facilitating decoding.  They were encouraging
kids to use context and pictures to guess unknown words.  This was a HUGE
mind blow and mental shift for me.  

But when I really sat down to reflect, I realized that while some kids were
growing, others just weren’t.  Many of my babies would progress to a
level C and just get stuck and never move on.  

There were other problems with it too.  I would have a full group of
level G kids, but half of them struggled reading the text and the other help
needed comprehension work.  So, I was having to split my instructional
focus because I didn’t want to have to split them into two separate
groups…because of TIME.

Speaking of time…  A good, guided reading group takes 20-30
minutes.  That means I could meet with 2 groups a day.  10 groups a
week.  And if I met with my kids who were really struggling every day, I
only had one other group a day I could meet with…without extra help from
other teachers.  What about my bubble kids that really needed me every
day?  What about my high kids that were bored and needed some

How could I be everything to everyone and help facilitate their growth in
reading?  It was time.  It was time to say goodbye to my career-long
BFF, guided reading.

It was at this point, that I started a long-term sub position in
kindergarten.  The school had moved to science of reading and our whole
group reading curriculum very much aligned with the science of reading. 
But I couldn’t NOT do any small group work.  

The guided reading teacher in me wanted to hurry up and form some reading and
pre-reading groups.  But we didn’t have levels for kids, because that’s
not best practice.  But I had to do something to give my kids small group

That’s when data driven reading groups were born.  That’s when I decided
to use the reading data I DID have on my kids to group them and work to
improve their weak areas or extend their strengths.  That’s when I
realized that levels didn’t matter.  

Because inside of all of those levels were a variety of skills the kids needed
to be able to read at that level.  And not all kids on a level G reached
that level for the same reason.  For some, it was decoding.  For
others, it was retelling.  For others, it was a language or vocabulary

By throwing out levels, and digging deeper, I could group kids by their gaps
in skills and fill those holes to help them progress even faster.

And the best part?  Most of the time, that skill work required 5, 10, 15
minutes tops.  So, I could meet with at least 3 groups a day during 45
minutes of centers in kindergarten.  And sometimes 6 or 7 groups!

Data driven reading groups were an absolute game changer for me.  And
they can be for you too?

Are you ready to make the switch?  In my next blog post, I’ll be talking
about the nuts and bolts of data driven reading groups and what you can do to
set them up in your classroom. (HINT:  It’s a bazillion and one times
easier to figure out that guided reading.  Really, it is.)

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