Should Kindergarten Teachers Use Guided Reading?

This is cross posted on the #kinderchat blog.

This question I pose is genuine. It is not rhetorical or just an attempt at an effective lead to draw in readers. In the midst of the Common Core, raised expectations and standardized assessments for five year olds, it is something worth pondering.

Besides being an elementary principal, I am also a parent of a kindergarten student. With that, this topic should be looked at from multiple perspectives within a school. (This is not necessarily my thinking, just what could reasonably be each position’s point of view.)

As a principal…I see the whole picture. I know students come in with various language abilities. Guided reading is an effective instructional strategy to accommodate every student’s needs.

As a parent…I want what’s best for my child. Is he/she getting what is needed to stay challenged? What should I be doing at home to support my child in reading?

As a kindergarten teacher…Each of my student’s skills and ability levels are so unique. And their specific needs within reading vary as well, like concept of print and phonemic awareness. With this many students, how can I use guided reading while keeping the rest of my class engaged in effective reading activities?

As an instructional coach or interventionist…Now that we are midway through the school year, how do we take the next step and differentiate for our students through practices such as guided reading? We have to meet a certain benchmark by the end of the year. I am not sure if we are going to make it.

The purpose of this post is only to explore this issue, maybe even start a conversation on the topic. To start, I need to digress and explore what guided reading is and isn’t. (This is probably more for me than anyone.)

Guided Reading Is Not Necessarily…

Small Group Instruction

Three or four students congregated around a teacher, sitting behind a bean-shaped table does not mean guided reading is occurring. Upon closer examination, it might be round robin reading (kids taking turns reading aloud a page). Unfortunately, the teacher is controlling the learning instead of the student.

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Small Groups Always Reading the Same Book

I used this practice too often as an elementary teacher. Students worked with me based on their reading level. This is ability grouping, a practice that shouldn’t be used exclusively because the focus (in students’ minds, anyway) only seems to be on decoding. Students grouped in this way might also view themselves as either poor readers, or better readers than peers. Both mindsets are not healthy when developing life long learners.

Shared Read Aloud, Interactive Read Alouds

It is not guided reading when a teacher reads aloud the same text that every student has access to. Yes, the teacher is scaffolding for students by doing the decoding for them. But how does a teacher balance the need for student choice and engagement with structure and support?

What Guided Reading Is

Prepared, Thoughtful Instruction

Guided reading is defined as “the place where every child, every day, has the opportunity to learn by reading a book that is just right” (Fountas and Pinnell, 1996). It does involve small group instruction, but based on students’ needs, personal goals and interests. Only using a prescribed set of readers from a basal or anthology series does not take into account these elements, although it might make planning easier for the teacher. More time should be spent preparing for where both the teacher and student want to go, and selecting a just right text that will help get them there.

Student-Centered

My teachers regularly enter independent reading levels for all of their students on a spreadsheet. Looking at most classrooms, I notice students at a wide range of levels rather than three to five convenient groupings. I would say this is most evident in primary level classrooms. This can make it difficult to facilitate guided reading in kindergarten as it is strictly prescribed. A few students at this age level require one-on-one support, others need an adult to touch base with them from time to time, while the rest of the class is somewhere in between.

Shared Assessment

Students need to be able to assess themselves as readers. One job of the teacher is to facilitate this process. Teacher talk that is observational and questioning can help students reflect on their efforts. Questions that focus on strengths as well as areas for improvement also blurs the lines between teacher and learner, as described by Peter Johnston in Knowing Literacy. “Children develop the criteria for evaluating their reading out of the conversations in which they are immersed” (Johnston, 1998). Anecdotal records and student portfolios can also provide more concrete evidence to measure growth in this process.

So, should kindergarten teachers use guided reading? Maybe a better question to ask is how we as teachers fulfill our role as a guide, which Merriam Webster defines as “one that leads or direct another’s way”.

Consider the following:

  • Do I know my students as readers? That is, am I aware of their interests, reading habits, background knowledge and aspirations?
  • Can I explain to a parent or colleague each of my student’s strengths and areas for growth?
  • When a student struggles to find his or her next book, am I able to pique their interest with other titles I think they will enjoy?
  • Do I regularly confer with my readers and keep anecdotal notes to plan for future instruction?
  • Are my students reading and writing at least 50% of the school day (Allington, 2002)?
  • When my students are reading independently, are they allowed to choose what they want to read?
  • Are the texts my students are reading at their level (Allington and Gabriel, 2012)?
  • Am I extending my students with text at their instructional level and guided support?
  • If our efforts result in students who develop a love for reading while making strong growth, then our guidance has been effective.

    References

    Allington, Richard E. (2002). “What I’ve Learned About Effective Reading Instruction From a Decade of Studying Exemplary Elementary Classroom Teachers.” Phi Delta Kappan, 83(10).

    Allington, R.E. & Gabriel, R.E. (2012). “Every Child, Every Day”. Educational Leadership, 69(6).

    Fountas, I.C. & Pinnell, G.S. (1996). Guided Reading: Good First Teaching for All Children. Heinemann: Portsmouth, NH.

    Johnston, Peter H. (1997). Knowing Literacy: Constructive Literacy Assessment. Stenhouse: Portland, ME.

Kindergarten Read Aloud: Comparing Caldecotts

In recognition of Read Across America, I am taking March to share some of my best experiences reading aloud to students in my school. As a principal, I believe it is imperative that I get into classrooms on a daily basis and model this lifelong skill.

I have been a regular visitor to my kindergarten classrooms. One strategy I have found to be effective with five and six year olds is making text-to-text connections by pairing different books. It can be the same author, a similar genre, or just pairing two books that have something in common. In this post, I describe how kindergarteners developed criteria for what makes a Caldecott winner so special.

Before Reading Aloud

I show students the cover of the book I am about to read them. I ask, “What do you notice?” This type of question, suggested by reading expert Mary Lou Manske, allows all students to participate without a lot of risk because almost anyone can notice something. Right away students point out the title, the author and the cover illustrations. Once a student spots the shiny gold circle, they ask, “What is that for?” I respond by telling them that it is a symbol for an award the book won, the Caldecott medal. It won the award because it was considered the best book published that year. We compare the award to something they were recognized for, such as in sports or being on the Wall of Effort at school.

During the Reading Aloud

The first book I read aloud is Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes. Before starting the book, I remind students that while we are listening to the book for enjoyment, we are also thinking about what makes this book special because it won the Caldecott. (I believe you can use a variety of award winners for this read aloud plan.)

As I read, we stop a few times to notice the illustrations and the writing. Students may already observe that the pictures are a) in pencil rather than color and b) not in the same format from page to page. For example, some illustrations have several panels; others have only one small picture. Also of importance is the repeated phrase, “Poor kitten!”. As students make these observations, I write them down on the whiteboard, seen here:

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With the second book, I chose to read aloud A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Phillip Stead. There is a purpose to this pick; the book also uses pencil in its illustrations in addition to being a Caldecott winner. Before reading, we review as a class the criteria we developed for the first book.

Amos McGee normally visits the animals at the zoo, but cannot today because he is home sick. The animals take it upon themselves to visit Amos at his home (via bus), to take care of him in the same way he took care of them. While reading the story, students are more apt to notice the similarities between the two books. Having the criteria displayed on the whiteboard while I read aloud is a helpful visual.

After Reading Aloud

Once done, we go back through the second book to determine if A Sick Day for Amos Mcgee has some of the same qualities that we listed for Kitten’s First Full Moon. Not surprisingly, the books are very similar in many areas. For example, even though one book is black and white and the other is in color, both books are unique in that they use pencil for the illustrations. Plus, neither book has the blaring colors that so many other picture books contain. The illustrations with these two books are more subtle.

Subtle – too big a word? I don’t think so. If kids can remember the Latin names of several dinosaurs, the terms “subtle” and “criteria” should be a breeze. Even if they all don’t fully understand the concepts, they have had the terms used in context and will hear them again in the future. What’s even better, their classroom now has a list of criteria to help them select books for their next visit to the school library.

The Writing Principal?

As an elementary school principal, I conducted my first writing activity with a class. It was a poem that piggy backed off the book I read aloud to one of my kindergarten classes, The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown. I had already read them this book at my prior visit, so I followed up with The Little Fireman by the same author to start the writing lesson. This was good on two notes. One, we were able to point out how the author uses patterns when writing her books. Plus, she collaborates with other writers to make new stories. Second, the fireman book gave some inspiration for the kindergarteners to come up with ideas for a topic for our Important Poem.

One of the more active students suggested fire trucks, so I jumped on that opportunity to praise him for making a text-to-text connection. I used my Moleskine book journal to model how to write the shared writing poem, with the help of the document camera. (At first, I thought I could also give the kindergartners a template to try these poems on their own once modeled. Their teachers showed me the errors in my thinking). We used the same format as the author did to write this poem about fire trucks:

The most important thing about fire trucks is that they have a ladder.
They are on wheels.
They are also red.
But the most important things about fire trucks is that they have a ladder.

I provided the majority of the sentences, with the students helping me come up with words to describe the fire truck. Once we were done, we attempted to take a picture of the poem we wrote using the document camera. Between the teacher and me, all we have is the picture below. I’ll have to do it the “old fashioned way” and scan the poem to print off. The teacher will have that poem in one of her literacy centers for her students to reread. I had a lot of fun writing with the students!

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