*When I didn’t have my own blog, I originally posted this on @MrsPTeach‘s blog. It’s now been updated on my own site and brought into line with what I now do in my classroom*
If you’d have asked me 3 years ago about the most effective way to teach reading across the primary phase I would have, without a doubt, talked about Guided Reading. I had always taught reading through this approach, it was just the way we did it. In fact, I was such an advocate that when I Ied English across my previous school I encouraged other colleagues to do the same. I’ve now changed my mind.
It was a conversation with a teacher at a TeachMeet Sussex meeting that got the cogs whirring. I heard him explain how his school had been advised not to do Guided Reading Sessions during OfSTED as it would be difficult to show progress which was above Requires Improvement. If that is the case, why is this still our chosen method of teaching?
These are my main issues with Guided Reading:
1) The Independent Groups Problem.
The nature of the Guided Reading approach means that although six children in my class receive focused attention for the half hour session, the remainder are left to work independently. All too often I see children become disengaged with independent tasks as they are not pitched correctly while I become a wasted resource sitting with six children in the class. I don’t think I’m alone. In fact, this has been confirmed by OFSTED in their report Reading for Pleasure and Purpose when they said that reading sessions,
“took too little account of the needs of other groups in the class and the tasks set for them lacked challenge. In some instances, pupils were left to their own devices to read silently or share books. Although some enjoyed the opportunity, others merely flicked through their books with little apparent interest.”
2) Too much focus on assessment, not on teaching.
I have sat through many meetings listening awestruck to “super teachers” recount their ability to sit with a small group, ask focused and meaningful questions while simultaneously writing children’s responses down on post it notes. This is apparently useful for assessment. I’ve never found this to be the case, just that I am drowning in post it notes while trying to decipher my failing handwriting. I feel that too much of the group session is focused on assessment of reading, not on teaching of it.
3) Group work is not focused enough.
When observing teacher led groups in guided reading the questioning doesn’t seem to be focused on one reading skill, rather it jumps around and covers a multitude of them superficially. The group is also inevitably dominated by the confident child, whereas those that are less confident get the chance to sit back. Inevitably a good teacher would set high expectations for participation from all members of the group. But it’s hard. And maybe a 25 minute conversation isn’t always the best way to ascertain what they know and what their next steps are.
4) Written outcomes are required at KS2.
A child’s reading ability at the end of KS2 is assessed through a written outcome which doesn’t marry up with the approach of many primary schools. When I taught Year 6, I found it particularly hard to move my most able children from Level 5 to Level 6: although they were able readers, they just weren’t ready for that step up in expectation of written responses.
5) The difficult objectives need explicit teaching.
As children move through KS2, they are required to become more analytical as readers. They are expected to develop their inferential skills and also have an awareness of authorial intent. I don’t think we spend enough time actually teaching children how to do this and what to be aware of when reading. Rather, we skim over it with a couple of questions here and there.
I think for too long children in my class have made progress in reading despite my method of teaching and over the past three years I have been on a bit of a “reading journey”. The approach outlined below is how I teach reading to my Year 5 class (but I have used this approach successfully with Year 4 and 6).
1) We moved to teaching whole class reading instead of Guided Reading.
We have a 40-minute whole class reading session daily. This 40-minute session is separate to our writing session.
We choose one of our Read with DERIC skills for the lesson, we plan activities which allow children to access these reading skills. It also allows me to work with the children that need it the most at that time. I can differentiate in many ways: the difficulty of the text the children are working on; the questions I am asking them; the level of support they are receiving. The outcome of the lesson is mostly written but not always. This removes the problem of independent groups, it allows me to focus on one objective in depth and it better prepares children for the expectation of written responses at the end of KS2.
I have written more about how I support lower ability readers in whole class reading sessions here.
2) We make our Reading Skills explicit.
We wanted to make our children aware of the reading skills they were using and we hoped this would give them a greater understanding of what makes a well rounded reader. We have created a simple logo for each skill and these are embedded in all our lessons: they appear on notebooks and teaching resources. The teacher and the pupils refer to them constantly during the lesson.
These skills are called Read with DERIC
DERIC stands for:
Decode (word reading)
Explain (explaining unfamiliar words and developing vocabulary)
Retrieve (finding information in the text)
Interpret (inference skills)
Choice (the choices of the author)
KS1 use the DERIC skills. As we move into KS2 we lose the “D” and just have ERIC
3) This means we now have an extended focus on Reading Skills.
Teaching whole class sessions has allowed us to spend a greater amount of time on focused skills rather than skimming over them. Recently, in a reading lesson we were studying a chapter of Gangsta Granny by David Walliams where Ben, the main character, is scared of his jewel-stealing antics being discovered by the nosey neighbour. In this lesson, we were focusing on the skills of ‘retrieve’ and ‘interpret’. In the lesson, the children read through their chapters highlighting quotes which told the reader Ben was scared. They then looked at these quotes and sorted them into retrieval and interpretation clues. As a whole class session, I found I could ask challenging questions that the whole class got to hear; I could support the lower ability children because we could read the chapter together and highlight our quotes; we could take time to discuss the tricky vocabulary together. It just seemed to work better and in a less contrived environment, without me worrying that my independent groups have lost the plot with their comprehension cards ten minutes ago.
4) We ensure weak readers still received phonics support.
The ability to decode texts is vital if children are to become effective readers. If they can’t do this, support must be put in place so that they are able to do this confidently. For our children who are not confident decoders we have phonics support sessions which run alongside our whole class reading sessions.
5) We introduced reading warm ups.
We have “Read with ERIC” activities twice weekly. This is where the children look at a stimulus: it may be a poem, short video clip or a picture. They have four questions to answer which have Explain, Retrieval, Interpret and Choice focus. These short activities make children aware of the different reading skills. They also allow lower ability children to access the different AF questions while removing the barrier of decoding text. Hopefully as their decoding skills improve, they will be more likely to exhibit skills in inference and recognising author choice when responding to texts.
This Read with ERIC was made to go with an animation called “Legacy” which can be found here.
6) It’s brought enjoyment back – for teachers and children!
Finally, I like teaching reading again. I don’t get sick of asking the same questions but to different groups. I don’t get annoyed with frustrations of the Guided Reading carousel: someone in Dahl group was away so can’t do the follow up task; Rowling group have already done that comprehension; Jimmy’s forgotten his free choice book again so spends a good ten minutes dawdling at the book corner. The children look forward to reading sessions. We sometimes link our Reading sessions to our Topic lessons and sometimes to our class readers which works well for us. Linking the reading sessions to class readers also means we don’t have to spend all the reading lesson reading the chapter: we often re-look at a section we have already read in story time. This year our class readers have all been Movie Books; we watch the film on the last afternoon of half term. There’s a buzz about reading and as a teacher I feel happy with where it’s going.
I’m not arguing that Guided Reading doesn’t have a place in the primary classroom. I still think it can be a valuable teaching method if planned effectively, especially when children still need to develop their skills in decoding and retrieval. My question is, is this approach still enough for those children moving into UKS2? This year we saw a huge step up in the expectation of the KS2 Reading Paper with a much greater emphasis on a child’s ability to read with stamina, understand inference and form written responses succinctly.
Perhaps, this academic year, we need to think about whether our reading lessons prepare our children sufficiently well for this level of challenge and take steps to arm our children with a greater awareness of the skills required to become a well rounded reader…whatever our chosen methods of delivery!