Recently I’ve noticed a trend. A small swell of teachers who are saying that guided reading doesn’t work and that teaching reading comprehension to whole classes is a much more effective way to teach children to read. As an advocate of guided reading, I struggle to agree with teachers who are dropping guided reading. When given the time and resources, and when taught by a skilled practitioner, I believe that guided reading is the best approach that we have of meeting the learning needs of all young readers. Today’s blog post from our Primary English Associate, Lynne Burns supports this view. Like me, Lynne is experienced enough to remember teaching reading before the widespread introduction of guided reading in the late 1990s. In this heartfelt article she pleads the case for the use of guided reading and the use of both scheme and real books as we open-up the world of reading to children.
When I first started teaching, far more years ago then I care to remember, it was before the introduction of Guided Reading. I used to teach reading by listening to each child read one to one at least twice a week, which was equivalent to spending over a day a week teaching reading. Except, of course, I wasn’t really teaching reading and I definitely wasn’t promoting a love of books. There was rarely, if ever, time to share a whole book with a child. The children usually read one or two pages to me while I corrected any decoding errors. If there was time, I might ask them a couple of questions about the part of the book they had read. The books the children read were dull, old fashioned reading scheme books; books that I would never have dreamt of reading to the whole class or using as a text in my English lessons. But this was just the way things were done and I was too inexperienced to do otherwise.
When Guided Reading was introduced it was as if someone had switched on a light in a dark room. Now I had time to actually teach reading properly. I embraced Guided Reading and promoted its benefits within my own school and then within the Local Authority. In Guided Reading lessons I had the time to teach children how to develop relevant reading skills through modelling during the session. I might teach them how to decode polysyllabic words, or how to use an index to navigate an information text or how to locate evidence in a text to answer a question. The children had the time to read the whole of a book. For shorter picture books we could manage this in one session but for longer books we could read them over several weeks. We had time to really discuss a book in depth. But, perhaps most importantly, we started reading great books. Out went the dull and dated reading scheme books. In came ‘real’ books grouped into Book Bands. This didn’t mean banished all reading scheme books at our school. Our Guided Reading programme includes some of the phonetically decodable books from Oxford University Press and Pearson which really support the application of phonic skills for developing readers and many of our non-fiction texts are from schemes but the majority of the books we share are good quality ‘real’ books. We share books that can delight or scare, make you laugh or cry. Reading a great variety of real books engages children in a way that reading schemes alone just cannot manage.
One of the highlights of my teaching career came while I was supporting another school to improve their Guided Reading provision. The Year 4 teacher was struggling to engage a group of low attaining boys who had become disaffected with reading and writing. In Guided Reading sessions they had only ever read scheme books and they lacked any motivation to want to read and engage. That is until I started to take in sets of real books. The first book I chose to read with them was Oscar Got the Blame by Tony Ross. Over the course of 20 minutes I watched the boys transform. They became desperate to read on and find out what Oscar’s invisible friend Billy had done now. They became detectives, spotting all of the things that were wrong when Billy made breakfast. They laughed out loud when Billy dressed up the dog. They became animated and engaged and eagerly shared their responses to the book and talked about times when they had had to take the blame like Oscar. As for a post-reading task, they wrote their own section for the book, dreaming up new mischief for Oscar’s invisible friend Billy. Would these boys have been so engaged by a reading scheme book? I very much doubt it. So if you have never given using real books in Guided Reading a chance, what are you waiting for?
Lynne Burns is Deputy Headteacher at Spon Gate Primary School, Coventry
If you would like to read more about Guided Reading, try some of our other popular posts:
Rachel Clarke, Director – Primary English
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