Thursday, March 20, 2014

Have We Lost Our Minds? The Omission of Guiding Students' Reading

2 second grader's initial thinking while reading
I was conducting an in-service for NYC elementary school administrators this past week when a person in attendance asked me to weigh in on the question of guided reading in primary classrooms. Underneath the query was the question of whether or not guided reading was an appropriate instructional practice given the emphasis on 'close reading' via the Common Core.

Many in attendance, it seemed, have been struggling with the absence of guided reading instruction for primary grade children. It seems an odd thing to me that guided literacy might be stricken from the primary grade classrooms, along with children actually practicing reading--but that does seem to be the situation many educators and their students are facing as time has been allotted for newer, (better?) basals that do not incorporate guided reading. In the mad dash to have all children 'PARCC-ready,' we are harming these same children by denying them the space to read with a more knowledgeable reader alongside them. Guided literacy learning offers the possibility of assistance during problem solving--be it as a writer or reader.

Linda Dorn and Tammy Jones (2012) explain:
An apprenticeship classroom should be structured so that children can work in their assisted and unassisted learning zones, including whole group, small group, one-on-one, and independently.' 
I like Dorn and Jones's reliance on Vygotsky and Bruner as they craft an approach to teaching that includes scaffolding (always with an eye to deconstructing the scaffold when it is no longer necessary). They explain the complex process of scaffolding:
Assisting a child in the zone of proximal development is called scaffolding (Bruner 1986; Wood 2002). During guided instruction, teachers provide children with varying degrees of support that enable them to accomplish specific tasks. As children become more competent, the scaffolding is removed and the children take over more of the responsibility. Scaffolding is not simply a case of breaking learning segments down into scope and sequence. Instead, it is a complex interactive process whereby the teacher regulates levels of support according to how well the children understand the task at hand. An essential quality of a scaffold is that it be self-destructing.
There's such clarity in the way Dorn and Jones situate the concept of guiding learning, while not succumbing to foolish (mis)understandings of text being inherently complex or not. Rather it is through interactions among child, teacher, task, and text that complexity and degrees of scaffolding occur. To me this is what the phrase, guided reading, has always meant.  It's not the technical aspects of group size, location, time, or a particular book or task that define this type of practice. Rather, it is the intentionality of the learners (teacher and child) who work alongside one another to problem solve. It is a relationship of shifting power as the child gains control over the processes of meaning making.

Over at EngageNY, there is a 5-minute video that has the title, "Guided Reading and the Common Core State Standards," that I watched twice as it did not make a lot of sense to me. I recognize this could be a shortcoming on my part.  It felt like the two speakers were trying to fit their ideology into a practice that was not actually a close fit and as such there was a lot of talk and not a lot said. Curious if you watch it what you might have to say. Truly it baffles me.

Guiding children's reading is essential for some learners at particular times.  It is practice that can help bridge the distance between I can't read it and watch me read it on my own.  As such the question of whether guided reading ought to be in primary grade classrooms is more a question of power and agency and less a question of method. To impose an absolute decision about such matters from positions beyond actual classrooms, is to deny agency and power to learners.

Dorn, Linda J.; Jones, Tammy (2012-09-28). Apprenticeship in Literacy (Second Edition) (Kindle Locations 3845-3846). Stenhouse Publishers. Kindle Edition.


  1. We're always impressed when a child comes to school already reading...this does not occur by magic, but after a child who has seen reading going on, been read to, and become curious about the process, begins to puzzle away at the unknown code and ask questions of a helpful, knowing reader. As those questions are answered, the scaffold is built naturally and naturally discarded. It seems this is exactly what guided reading is, although with much more technical understanding available behind it.


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