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Shanahan on Literacy

Timothy Shanahan

Literacy expert Timothy Shanahan shares best practices for teaching reading and writing. Dr. Shanahan is an internationally recognized professor of urban education and reading researcher who has extensive experience with children in inner-city schools and children with special needs. All posts are reprinted with permission from Shanahan on Literacy.

Guided Reading and the Common Core

October 16, 2014

The term "guided reading" is causing a lot of confusion. Most of us now use it as shorthand to refer to those instructional procedures recommended by Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell in their book, Guided Reading (1996).

The problem with that conception of the term "guided reading" is that it actually conglomerates three separate aspects of instruction into one idea. And, that’s where the problem is.

From the emails I receive and the audience comments at my presentations, it is evident to me that many of you — probably most of you — think of guided reading as instruction with leveled books; that is, with books matched to the students' instructional levels. Because of that, I often use "guided reading" as a shortcut key when I am criticizing the idea of leveling kids’ reading in those ways.

And that works great with some of my audience. They get what I’m saying.

But the Fountas and Pinnell version of guided reading — because of its complexity — means different things to different people. A significant part of my audience believes that guided reading is about small group teaching, and studies are pretty clear that small group teaching is advantageous.

The term "guided reading" was not created by F&P. It was a term used by one of the basal reader companies during the 1950s to describe their lesson plan in which teachers guided students to read a text by preteaching vocabulary, setting a purpose for reading, having kids read part of the text, and then discussing that portion in pursuit of a series of teacher questions. (A competing program at the time marketed a very similar routine called "directed reading").

Again, when I talk about the contradiction between "guided reading" and Common Core, some individuals are taking it that I’m criticizing the idea of reading a text en masse under the supervision of a teacher.

Please understand: Research findings and Common Core standards do stand in stark contradiction to the idea of teaching everybody (beyond beginners) at their so-called instructional level. The standards say nothing about small group instruction or communal readings in which teachers scaffold kids’ interactions with text. The criticisms are of the first, not of the second two.

I hope that helps.

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To learn more about teaching and assessing reading, writing and literacy, visit Dr. Shanahan's blog.

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"When I say to a parent, "read to a child", I don't want it to sound like medicine. I want it to sound like chocolate. " — Mem Fox