Sunday, March 5, 2017

Listening to Readers Away from the Guided Reading Table

Teachers work hard every day to know their readers.  They carefully craft guided reading plans based on what they know about the strengths and needs of the children.  They look through the guided reading books to find just the right one at the right time.  They find a word or two that might be hard to figure out using meaning, structure and visual information, planning on having the kids predict and locate those words during the introduction, along with an explanation of the vocabulary or the strange way that the word looks.  We want the children to have the just right amount of words to figure out with the just right amount of support.  
Most kids are very successful when reading at the guided reading table because of all of the best laid plans of the teacher.  When they can't solve a word, we are right there to prompt them for the reading behaviors that we have introduced to them.  It's a beautiful thing.  When a child comes to an unknown word and he or she uses the known strategies and rereads to gather more meaning, but can't get it, we give them a told.  After the reading, we might take them back to the word to show them what they could have done to figure it out.  If they couldn't have figured it out with what they know, we let it go, noting the things that the child tried.  
But what happens when they are reading on their own?  Sometimes, without intending to, teachers become codependent to the needs of the children.  I like to compare it to swimming.  When children first enter the water, we hold onto them and make sure they don't go under for too long (read aloud).  Then, as they are beginning to have a foothold on the technique we are teaching them, we let them do more and more of the work (shared reading).  Then, when it becomes evident that they are almost there and we know they can do it, we let them, standing close enough just in case (guided reading).  The goal is for them to do it all on their own (independent reading).  Sometimes we are so afraid that they can't do it we stand too close and jump in too much so that they don't have the opportunity (in swimming and in reading).  
We won't know what the children have a firm grasp on unless we watch them while they are independently reading.  No one has shown them the front cover or taken them to a few places in the book.  They haven't given them an introduction or set them up for the just right amount of work.  It's a fresh book that they have never seen before and no one has made sure that it is at the right instructional level.  The teacher has already taught them how to pick a just right book so we need to see if they can and what they do with the words that trick them.  
I have been able to get so much valuable information from watching children independently read.  I had assumed that they would be doing the same things in their independent books that they had done at the guided reading table under my watchful eye.  Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't.  My point is that we really need to make sure that we take the time to listen in when they are working on their own.  We need to just listen.  No prompting allowed right away.  You want to see what they can do.  
I remember Adam.  He was my star reader of the day in that he had nailed all of the tricky words at the guided reading table on his own.  I told him what he did and how it helped him as a reader.  He beamed with pride and walked off to read independently.  My coach, having watched the lesson told me how great it was to see Adam do so well after he had struggled for so long.  It felt great!  
My coach asked me how Adam did on his own.  I looked at him as if he had gone daft and told him that I listened to him every day and that he did very well.  Then he said, "No.  I mean how does Adam do in his independent reading books?"  Honestly, I had no idea.  I was pulling reading groups while he was reading those books.  My coach went over and sat next to Adam on the carpet and motioned me over.  He told me to just listen to Adam read aloud.  I did and what I heard almost made me gasp aloud.  Every time he came to an unknown word, Adam would mumble something and read on!  
I looked at my coach, dumbfounded.  
We stood up and moved away from Adam.  He asked me what I thought and I told him that I noticed that Adam was a different reader with me than he was on his own.  I knew Adam could do it, but he just didn't make the effort without being at my guided reading table.  It was as if he knew the expectations at the table but he thought that they were there for the purpose of reading at the table.  
I can tell you that my mini-lessons stayed pretty much the same after that.  I did know what my kids needed and how they needed it taught (level of support).  What did change in my mini-lessons was that I now included the connection that some of them weren't making in their independent reading.  I listened in when they were reading every day as part of my routine and I took notes and shared examples.  The difference in their reading was almost instant.  
If you are reading this post, I hope it has challenged you to think about how you listen to your students read and what you are looking for.  It can't just be at the guided reading table.  There is so much more to our readers.  We need to know what they do when they choose the book, when the book is nonfiction or poetry, fantasy or science fiction.  Oh, and try not to jump in when they are reading independently.  Just listen.  


  1. Your slice has reminded me of when I was in kindergarten and got to read over in the corner while everyone else worked on learning how. I was only 5 and 6 at the time, so it could have happened, but I don't think I ever had anyone come listen in. You are a very good teacher from what I can tell by this slice. I have many ideas I can use even at the junior high level.

  2. I agree, our independent reading time shows what they truly have learned from our teaching, which is very telling at times and not what we expect. That is why I love partnership goal work and make time at the end of reading workshop for them to check, comment and give feedback on their reading work/goals. Thanks for sharing!