Change. It can be tough. If you have spent a few years in a classroom, you know that change is inevitable. Year after year things change. We adopt new ways. We learn new things about teaching practices, new research like the science of reading, the way students learn, and we reexamine the way we have always done things.
After a lot of reading, listening, and reflecting, I’m reexamining my guided reading practice and routine as I have always done it. And I’d like to encourage you to do the same.
Research, both old and new, says that explicit and systematic phonics teaching is crucial. If you come from a strong balanced literacy background like me, you know that phonics is a part of your literacy routine. What I have learned over the last few years is that the term “balanced literacy” means different things in different schools. For me, phonics was a part, but not the most important part. It also was not a part that my small group instruction was structured around.
My small group time was structured around a student’s reading level and where I needed to support them on their journey. The focus was on language comprehension, which is an important part of reading, but it is not all. I thought this was good. I thought this was right. But friends, my eyes have been opened with the science of reading research.
Am I saying reading levels are bad? No, not at all. I think they are a helpful tool for teachers.
They aren’t THE KEY, though. We don’t live and breathe by reading levels. Unfortunately, because we have done this for years, we have also taught parents to. This tool has become a source of stress for some parents. Reading levels became something they were never meant to be.
So, what should we be doing instead? What should our guided reading practice be structured around?
Looking at How Students Learn to Read
When we look at Scarborough’s reading rope, first we see how many factors there truly are when it comes to learning to read.
Then we see that it takes both language comprehension AND word recognition to develop a skilled reader. As a student’s decoding skills become more automatic and they become more strategic in using their growing language comprehension skills, these skills intertwine. The result: students develop into skilled, fluent readers. We must focus on BOTH areas. As a teacher with a strong balanced literacy background, as I reflected I found myself focusing more on comprehension as my biggest fear was producing word callers—readers who could not understand what they were reading.
But now I know better and so I am changing my ways. I encourage you to reexamine your guided reading practice also if you have found yourself in the same place as me.
Here are a few things I am changing to reflect the Science of Reading and are a simple place to start.
- Explicitly teaching phonics. Even reading at home with my own children I am reviewing phonics rules left and right.
- High-Frequency word instruction. Orthographically mapping words is important and it helps move those words to long term memory. This is something that I am adding. Also, teaching high-frequency words as they best align with the phonics scope and sequence, not just because it appears in a text. You can read more about orthographically mapping words HERE.
- How I prompt readers. This seems to simple, and it is! But it is also a powerful part of your guided reading lessons. For so long we have steered away from saying, “Sound it out”, but friends, we are bringing it back and not being afraid to see kids work through a word. Here are some FREE prompting posters and cards you can use.
- Using decodable readers. I will be the first to admit that it took some convincing for me to take a second look at decodable texts. A lot were boring, did not carry a good storyline, and just sounded like a Dr. Seuss book. But as I reflected on my learning, on what I had read, and even what I saw with my own kids, I knew this was best for early readers. After all, I did not want to build word callers and the better they would get at decoding, the better they would get at comprehending.
Decodable Books and Leveled Books with the Science of Reading in Mind
If you are looking for resources to help make your small groups a breeze, you’ll love my decodable kits and my newly updated leveled kits.
First, I have Decodable Readers Kits that have everything you need to use decodable readers to help students with phonics skills and decoding skills. There are four different types of kits:
- Short Vowels Decodable Readers
- Blends Decodable Readers
- Digraphs Decodable Readers
- Long Vowels Decodable Readers
- Decodable Readers BUNDLE
- Single, Open Syllables Decodable Readers
Each kit has everything you need to successfully teach including decodable books and passages, detailed lesson plans, phonics practice materials, teaching posters, and more. You can get each set individually or grab the bundle to save.
Next, I have leveled guided reading kits for Kindergarten (Levels A-D), First Grade (Levels E-J), and Second Grade (Levels K-M). These kits also have everything you’ll need for guided reading lessons. I included books (printable and digital), scripted lessons, word work activities, teaching posters, parent involvement notes, and more. They have been recently updated to better reflect the best science of reading practices.
No matter where you are in your teaching journey, in your literacy journey, or in your guided reading journey, it’s never too late to make a change. We are educators. To sum it up, we are professionals at making changes that are BEST for kids. I welcome you on this journey that I have been on for the last two years.