As I was reflecting on my guided reading lessons today, I started thinking about the teaching point. The teaching point is something I believe can be overlooked when you are first learning the guided reading format you are using. I think it is very important and should never be overlooked. I try to have a teaching point for every day of the lesson no matter if it is two, three or four days long. I make sure to include a teaching point even after conferring with students as they write about the book.
This is how Jan Richardson introduces teaching points in her book The Next Step in Guided Reading (2009).
Each day, after students read the text, spend a few minutes teaching strategies for decoding, fluency, and/or comprehension. Always ask yourself what do these students need to learn next.
The teaching point is something that you may plan for ahead of time as you anticipated what problems the text may pose to students. You may also choose something you noticed a student or students do or attempt to do and discuss what the student did at the point of difficulty, in an authentic point of need. I think you can go much deeper than teaching a strategy, by focusing on the thinking you have do before, during and after using a strategy. I love being able to notice and name what students do as they are experiencing true struggle and trying to make decisions of what they can do to help themselves. When you can discuss those moments as teaching points, students learn the invisible things readers do.
Vicki Vinton explains the benefits of what she calls noticing and naming in her book Dynamic Reading for Deeper Thinking (2017). Vicki says when conferring with readers she would notice and name what they had done to solve the problems the text posed in order to make thinking visible and transferable to other texts.” Keeping the focus on meaning and bringing in skills and strategies as students need them while conferring is a more authentic way to make sure transfer is happening. As readers we do many things at once without often realizing it. If we notice and name what we see the student doing along with the thinking they are doing, this helps motivate them and deepen their understand of what readers really do in their head. I think it is important while completing a teaching point to reference the thinking the student had to do. By doing that you make it more transferable to other texts.
A teaching point could be noticing and naming that a student paused or stopped because something didn’t make sense and sharing that as a teaching point can be huge! Getting students to stop and recognize that they need to figure something out is important. Those small pauses and stops are at the heart of self-monitoring, that teaching a strategy won’t expose kids too.
I always plan a teaching point I can talk about as I prepare a lesson centered around the problems I think the books will cause and have a strategy ready, but I really prefer to highlight something a student or students did as I conferred with them. I want to establish that each child is a reader and already doing many things readers do. Notice I said “readers” do. I did not say “good readers” do. I use to use the phrase “good readers” all the time. Looking back on it I can see some looks of frustration and hurt many of my students faces. We need to build students agency as readers, not imply that they are bad readers. I point out what they are already doing as a reader. Then I can build upon that strength, often getting to my planned teaching point if it fits the reader at that moment. It is key to always acknowledge what we notice readers doing well. This builds them up. After your teaching point you still have time to introduce and led students to practice a skill or strategy within the lesson and should have planned to do so. Your teaching point should only be 1-2 minutes and doesn’t need to be connected to the strategy you plan to teach later in the lesson.
David Pearson & Margaret Gallagher who first introduced the gradual release of responsibility model said “We could begin a sequence by asking students to try it on their own, offering feedback and assistance as students demonstrate the need for it.” I try to approach my conferring sessions that way! That assistance might be a quick modeling exercise that could become my teaching point. This can also be applied to readers workshop conferring sessions. Teaching points give you a chance to highlight what you notice readers doing during your conferring and set them up to apply a strategy, but not the place to teach a completely new strategy.
I want my students to be able to construct an understanding of the text’s meaning as they work through problems the text caused. I want them to completely engage with the text bringing their whole self to it, not only a strategy or skill to practice and ask them to think about what they did as readers and highlight those moments through teaching points. I want them to use their feelings, experiences, observations and thoughts to make reasonable interpretations towards the texts meaning while using a strategy as needed as a tool to enhance meaning. Using teaching points this way can lead to so much more self-reflection for students and can be used as student self-assessments. You can even create more formal student self-assessments once students are have experienced thinking about themselves as readers in this way. Teaching points are a place to make the invisible work of reading visible to students focusing in on the thinking it takes.
Sunday Cummins states she that when conferring during a guided reading lesson, she first looks for monitoring/decoding problems, then fluency and lastly comprehension when listening to students read. So depending on student and group needs your teaching point can look very different. Even when zeroing in on decoding I feel the focus should be on making meaning. I keep the focus on cross-checking vs individual decoding strategies, because as readers we usually use multiple strategies at once. This is a good rule of thumb to follow. Jan Richardson says regardless of your focus, always emphasize rereading the text to be sure it makes sense. I love keeping the focus on meaning!
When planning for guided reading and teaching points ahead of time consider thinking specifically about the problems a reader faces individually and with the specific text. When doing this Vinton say “ you’ll be able to come up with precisely targeted solutions.” She says to consider 3 questions as you plan:
- What kind of problems is this reader facing?
- What kind of text does this reader need?
- How can we help this reader develop a more complex vision of reading?
Keeping these questions in mind can help you plan lessons and teaching points. They will help you be prepared for problems students encounter as they read.