Guided reading is like riding a bicycle without training wheels.
Guided reading has significant beneficial effects in helping students develop reading skills and adopt correct reading behaviours. In guided reading, the child does the reading and the adult guides, prompts, praises positive behaviours, questions and instructs when and where they notice a problem.
The expert reader – the teacher – supports the learner as they read, talk and think their way through a continuous piece of text – all of it! It is not sentence or paragraph reading or choral reading or “round robin” reading. Each student is reading, talking and thinking about the entire text in their own way, in their own time, adding their own meaning to what they have read.
In a small group, each child has their own copy of the text and uses problem solving strategies to understand what they have read. The meaning of the text is discussed before reading – using the title, during reading – using prior knowledge, prediction and clarifying ideas and after reading – using summarizing, question generating and inference.
During reading, the teacher supports each individual learner as they read. They target specific teaching based on their detailed knowledge of what the learner knows about reading behaviours and what they need to know next. To do this, the teacher needs to know and record each child’s specific reading behaviours and what strategies they are using and neglecting. This will inform support during reading with targeted, individual instruction.
The teacher uses the text to demonstrate the successful in-the-head strategies that the student needs exactly at the point when the student needs that support. The teacher guides the learner to use the specific strategy successfully as they talk about the words and ideas in the text. Practice and consolidation of these strategies – with support – will give the learner the confidence to use these behaviours independently.
The teacher selects the group of learners and the text at an easy enough level for fluent reading and enough challenge to practice important reading strategies such as word solving, sentence structure and inferred meaning. The text selected should have opportunity for problem solving and higher-order thinking rather than simple decodable text. It is important that a rich variety of text – with a level of challenge – is used so that there are opportunities for readers to practise and consolidate effective reading behaviours using increasingly complex text.
Readers need practice with different strategies, with behaviours they have learnt, so they can do things automatically – without thinking about it. And the expert reader – the teacher – is right there coaching for improvement, guiding with techniques and encouraging the successful reading behaviours using a quality piece of continuous text.