Who’s Doing the Work? 3 Big Ideas That Changed My Thinking About Guided Reading



I just finished the book Who’s Doing the Work by Jan Bukins and Kim Yaris.  I enjoyed the entire book, but the guided reading chapter was one that really stuck out to me.  It made me rethink the purpose of guided reading and how my actions as a teacher did not really coincide with that purpose.  

As a fourth grade teacher, and then a reading intervention specialist, my guided reading followed a similar format.  I would first choose a book that was the level of my group, meticulously plan the book introduction, vocabulary instruction, and comprehension strategies I would focus on.  I would meet with students to execute the lessons I had prepared for them, send them off to read and then meet with them again to check comprehension.  My lesson planning was based on running records and other assessments that I had done in class.  Many times, the same lessons applied to multiple groups, so I would repeat those lessons with each one.

After reading Burkins and Yaris’ book, I began to think of this differently.  Here are 3 big take-aways I got from Chapter 4.

  1. The Purpose – The purpose of Guided Reading is to take a text that is slightly challenging for students and nudge them to independence.  The authors say that in the gradual release of responsibility model, guided reading is just one step removed from independent reading.  (p. 91)  The actions I took in planning my guided reading lesson did not nudge them to independence.  With all the work that I did with the book introductions, the vocabulary instruction and the comprehension strategies, I took all of the work upon myself.  The kids were completely scaffolded in a text that was not overly challenging, just slightly above their level.  Who was doing the work?  ME!
  2. The Prompting:  Instead of doing the planning that would take the work upon myself, the authors suggest gentle prompting to get the students to think about what they already know that will help them navigate through the text.  In the last chapter of the book, the author’s tell the story of Sugata Mitra. (Here is his inspiring TED Talk)  Mitra conducted an experiment to see if children living in poverty could learn on their own if they were motivated to do so.  He put computer kiosks, connected to the Internet, in the center of an impoverished Indian town and watched.  Kids were able to figure out how to navigate on their own within days.  He also found that if he inserted a “Grandmother” type teacher there, a person to encourage and question, but not explicitly teach, the learning of those students equalled the achievement of students in affluent schools.  This “teacher” encouraged those children with prompts such as “Wow!  How did you do that?” and “What will you do now?”  In guided reading, this prompting might sound like “What will you do to get ready to read this book?” Instead of “Let’s take a picture walk and I will point out the places where you might encounter difficulty.”  Or, instead of “What is the first sound you see in that word?  Get your mouth ready,”  you would hear “What are you going to do now?”  The key here is that our students already know many strategies, we just need to get them to use those strategies independently.  Guided reading should help them to do that.
  3. The Planning:  So, if guided reading now becomes the gentle nudging towards independence, how do you plan for that and when do you teach the specific strategies that students need to move up the literacy continuum?  First, I think it is important to note that planning for guided reading is important.  Using formative assessments to figure out what students need can help you plan for prompts to give them during guided reading.  Are students having trouble following characters from chapter to chapter?  Gentle prompts could be “What do you already know about that character?”  or “How can you figure out why the character did that?”  to push them to re-read or go back into the story.  Mindful prompting for guided reading is key, but keep in mind that teacher talk should be at a minimum.  Kids should be accumulating and using the strategies that they need to navigate through the text.  Guided Reading in this sense also becomes a formative assessment!  If students aren’t able to figure out a strategy to help them through the tricky parts, that is good information!  This in the moment assessment can help you plan whole class mini-lessons or shared reading experiences if the need is across the class, or conferencing or strategy groups if the need is identified in a few students.

I really liked the infographic above, found on the Burkins and Yaris website.  I think it is a good reminder to us that in order to get kids to internalize and use the strategies that we teach them, they need a chance to practice them.  They need less teaching and more gentle nudging in order to become strong, independent readers.  Thinking about the 4 questions above:  Who is talking?  Who is catching mistakes?  Who is asking questions?  and Who is deciding what is important in the work? can help us figure out who is doing the work, and therefore the learning…. the students or us.  Because if we aren’t teaching towards independence, then we aren’t really teaching.

One thought on “Who’s Doing the Work? 3 Big Ideas That Changed My Thinking About Guided Reading

  1. Pingback: It’s Monday! What are you Reading? | Teaching and Learning

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