Guided reading, in short, is reading we do as a group, along with a teacher. This kind of reading is a very useful method for instilling good reading habits and skills in students because it ensures that readers are getting the most from a text.
Guided reading stands in contrast to assigning reading as homework.
What is guided reading?
Beyond just reading in a group, guided reading is the examination of a text under the watchful guidance of a teacher and along with other students. Reading with the teacher present is extremely beneficial.
First, when students have questions, the teacher is right there to answer them. Also, the teacher can anticipate questions or provide commentary on the reading that will help explain what is going on.
For example, students frequently misunderstand words or idioms and then don’t bother to look them up. Also, with ESL learners, the teacher is able to highlight and explain cultural nuance students would otherwise miss. With the teacher present, the students can get immediate answers to what these mean without distracting too much from the story.
Another important feature of guided reading is that teachers can gauge the comprehension level of the students. Teachers can get a strong grasp of student comprehension even based off of things like pronunciation, reading speed, or even general fluency.
This is because before comprehension can actively occur, students need to be able to absorb all of the information they are given. Being able to absorb this information implies that they are familiar with all of the words and can rapidly decode meaning in sentences; thus reading speed and pronunciation abilities are strong indicators of comprehension.
Along with mechanical checks on comprehension, guided reading allows teachers to reflect on parts of a text, whether that be a sentence, paragraph, or entire section. Teachers can spot-check whether students are able to summarize a section, articulate a theme, or analyze a plot point, all of which will help the teacher gauge whether or not the readers are understanding.
Finally, the teacher can explain complicated sections, themes, and ideas to students. This allows students to build mental strategies for better comprehending difficult readings. It’s always interesting to see how much comprehension has increased by the end of a book compared to the start, and this is mostly due to guided reading.
What most schools do
Schools and other programs often ask that students read very little during class time, while the rest is done as homework. The thinking is, students can just read at home, and then valuable instruction time can be spent discussing, analysing, and completing other work regarding the text.
Teachers think that by having students read at home, they will save more time in class, and then will also cover more material. This is flawed thinking.
Why we don’t do what other programs do
First and most importantly, for an activity to be worthwhile in class, it needs to be more valuable than just reading. If reading from a book is better use of time than a given activity, you should just scrap that activity and read. What most teachers don’t realize is that their activities usually aren’t as productive as simply reading; even just having students read silently is a better use of time than a worksheet or a group project.
Next, being based in Taiwan means most students are reading English as a second language. Not only is comprehension going to be lower than their native-speaking counterparts, but there is a whole world of cultural nuance that most Asian students will miss in novels, short stories, and articles, thus making genuine comprehension difficult.
Also, the fact remains that many students are at least a little lazy, at least some of the time. Homework sucks, and as such it will be treated less diligently than we want. When students don’t finish all of a text, or only skim, or forget about it altogether, but class is predicated on students completing it, it makes for a poor program and many students end up not understanding.
Because of all the potential for students to not fully comprehend something they’ve read at home, they will not find value in what they’ve read when discussion time rolls around. If students aren’t finding reading assignments valuable, the teacher is not doing their job.
Why guided reading is better
As opposed to devoting class time fully to analysis or other text-related work, we find that guided reading allows analysis and organic discussion to happen at the same time as (or directly after) reading, and the reading that is done is of much higher quality.
Students not only have access to a teacher to help clarify the reading, but in a classroom setting students are much more likely to be focused on their work, while at home the number of distractions can be daunting. Greater focus and access to the teacher mean full comprehension, and this in turn means that more students can work together to analyze a text.
Furthermore, guided reading allows students to build reading skills more fully than if they are asked to read at home. At Englist, for guided reading we choose books that are slightly above students’ reading levels, but because the teacher is there to help, students are able build strategies and connections modeled after what the teacher is doing. This means that when they do encounter difficult reading on their own, they will be much more likely to be able to tackle it.
Guided reading is one of our most important tools for doing the difficult work of getting ESL learners to familiarize themselves with English to the same degree as a native speaker. Today’s students are asked to know more with less time, so we have very little time to waste.
How do you think students should improve their comprehension? Is assigning reading ever a good idea? Let us know what you think in the comments.
Thanks for reading.