Do you work in a school or district that utilizes both Guided Reading and Reader’s Workshop? If so are these two different types of reading instruction set up to complement each other? Or are they being separated out like two entirely different entities? If they are separated out, isolated from each other, I would argue students are getting different messages about what a reader does and what they are to do as a reader. You know kids must be exposed to new learning several times before being able to try it out for themselves. Let’s not compartmentalize our reading instruction but connect it, so we expose our kids to new learning across different types of reading instruction. Check out what I mean.
Does this situation sound familiar?
In guided reading you tend to meet the reader where they are using a chosen text that is at a level that will challenge the student but not overwhelm them. Within your guided reading group you really focus on reading for meaning, to understand the content and build upon the knowledge they already have. You may even use guided reading as a way to get in content from your science or social studies standards. You may be choosing more Non-fiction texts than fiction texts to work with students in. Therefore the focus is on reading for meaning. Guide Reading also gives you opportunities to shoring up any missing phonics or fluency needs and depending on the stage of reading your groups are in some high frequency word work. The Pre-A and Emergent stages are centered around the learning letters and their associated sounds & high frequency words, but still you promote reading for meaning. All the other stages put the focus on reading for meaning. When you look at Fountas & Pinnell’s wheel of Systems of Strategic Actions, most of it is filled with actions related to meaning. Even when completing all components most guided reading, lessons always go back to reading for meaning. Kids naturally want to make meaning. In stages Early -Fluent the writing component is about writing a response to reading or writing to extend learning.
I believe phonics and wordy study definitely have their place in guided reading, but even as you move through the stages of reading, word study options becomes more about meaning.
Your reader’s workshop might consist of a 15-20 minute focus lesson centered around a reading skill or comprehension strategy. These skills and strategies are pulled from your local and state standards. If you are not careful you end up teaching the skill or strategy in isolation and ask students to practice it in isolation using certain books hand-picked for the skill. Next you may have students completing a reading task within their reader’s notebook or on a graphic organizer. Students leave the focus lesson intent on completing a task instead of reading. For example:
a teachers focus lesson might be on recognizing the difference between facts and opinions. After the focus lesson students might be asked to read pre-selected texts and create a chart or list writing down fact and opinions they notice in the list. In the process reading for meaning gets lost and kids cannot tell you much about the article at all.
Or after a focus lesson on similes readers were asked to find similes in a text and write them down or mark them some how. Student might end up marking every sentence where the word like is used but not understand the text at all.
In either case is the reading being asked to read for meaning. No. In the case of thinking about fact or opinion the readers could have been asked to think about why the writer chose the facts they did, and what those facts may imply (the writers opinions). This would be a more authentic way of reading and still recognizing facts vs opinions. This would even help readers understand the writers message that my be more implied and lead to a deeper main idea and understand of the text.
In the case of recognizing similes, the simile itself should not be the focus. The meaning the writer is trying to convey using a comparison should be the focus. It does not matter if the writer used like or as to make the comparison, but it does matter that the readers understands the writer’s implied meaning behind the comparison. Marking them does not help students understand them, but focusing on meaning does.
Does much transfer happen in this scenario? Do you see a mixed message here? Reading tasks vs reading for meaning. Do you see how these two different types of reading instruction could be working against each other, not complementing each other? This can happen when reading instruction becomes compartmentalized. Reader’s workshop was not designed for skill instruction.
Take a look at Lucy Calkins explaining Reader’s Workshop
Reader’s Workshop was not designed for skill instruction like the scenarios above.
When the teacher comes around to confer with kids do they center their conferring around the skill taught in the focus lesson? Teachers may bring with them a mentor text to use to confer with that student. This is a text they are familiar with. A text that has been discussed with the whole class where many students have their shared opinions and thinking about it. The teacher has probably used this book to model and think aloud with, sharing his own thinking about it. If students were paying attention they probably have learned the gist of this book and heard many ideas and details shared about this book and can repeat them back when the teacher brings the book a conference. At this point you are probably not getting a lot of original thinking from the student. If the teacher is using the conference to assess the student on the said skill, then they will probably not get accurate results. This might be something you do for some readers, but not all readers. You have to know your readers, if they do not need that much scaffolding don’t waste their time or yours.
In this conferring scenario are students getting time to independently practice the skill in their own text? Will transfer happen? For some yes, but we are not teaching just for some, we are teaching for all students. If a reading skill is important enough to have made it into your local and state standards, then your students will have to use it while independently reading in their own books. I promise it will come up if your district has sound standards. It might not come up the same day you single it out in a focus lesson, but it will if students are reading a rich variety of texts. If you are meeting a student where they are when coming to them to confer there will be a skill and strategy you can coach them on to. It will be more meaningful to them when using their own book. It will be something they can take with them and transfer to other texts when you lead them to figure it out, not give them the thinking which can easily happen when the same texts get over used.
Teachers should be using the same framework to guide teaching decisions in Guided Reading as they are in Reader’s Workshop and conferring. After all you are conferring with students in every guided reading lesson you teach and in every workshop session.
In the Readers workshop scenario above students may be getting in some authentic reading where they get to practice thinking through a whole text, struggle with its meaning and make connections across it but probably not enough time, for transfer to happen, if the books they practice in have had a majority of the thinking done for them or when they practice skills in isolation.
You should be teaching using the same transferable thinking processes when you confer in guided reading and reader’s workshop. Kids are reading in both types of reading instruction. Skills and strategies can be brought into your conversations as tools that can help you make meaning, not become the focus of what you are doing. You cannot expect all readers in your classroom to be at the same level of knowledge and use of skills or strategies. Stop conferring with them like they should be. Meet them where they are. Students truly learn how to use a skill or strategy only when they have to put it into practice for themselves with the teacher noticing and noting what are doing. Putting names to what the student is doing and helping them make connections for themselves. I think modeling & thinking aloud are great teaching strategies and they must be present in your reading instruction. I use them every day, but not to isolate out a skill over meaning of the text, but too connect it.
All of this confusion could be happening in schools despite good intentions. Any reading skill or strategy taught must always be linked back to reading for meaning. If you cannot link it back to meaning, then you should not be teaching it. Even when learning letters and their sounds we do so to learn to make meaning (words) and read for meaning. No strategy or skill being taught should be more important than reading for meaning or the reader. Remember that not all readers will need to utilize every skill or strategy you teach, some may be beyond it, and you have to honor that. Skills and strategies are tools that can help us read to understand. If they are not being taught that way then kids are getting mixed messages, which is causing confusion for many of them.
Read through this handout from Ellin Keene. She also tends to encourage teachers to set kids up to make meaning using skill and strategies as tools, not the focus of the instruction.
Guided Reading and Reader’s Workshop should be complimenting each other. Reading for meaning should be the focus of all reading instruction. Different types of reading instruction should build off each other helping students build on their strengths and connect processes of reading together. Please do not compartmentalize your reading instruction.