Sep 06 2017

Setting Up a Guided Reading Program Across Grade Levels

During my time at NIS (Netherlands Inter-community School), many expats left Indonesia for economic reasons, resulting in a significant decrease in the number of students enrolled at our school. The loss of so many students impacted class sizes drastically, and management needed to think of a new strategy to manage our Guided Reading program. There weren’t enough students in each grade to form groups at common reading levels, but we would be able to form reading groups by combining students from different grades based on their reading levels. As I mentioned in the “Power of Planners,” the original set of planners provided to teachers confused them, so I was asked to step in and modify these planners. Once the correct planning system was implemented, teachers were able to collaborate and run an effective Guided Reading Program by combining students from different classes based on their reading levels.   

The first step was time-tabling: to run a Guided Reading Program across grade levels, teachers and classes needed to have common reading times. The next step in implementing a Guided Reading Program across grade levels was to assess student abilities and to group students accordingly, as shown in the table below. Students were evaluated, and their reading level, based on the PM Benchmark (reading assessment procedures) was recorded along with notes on the types of reading errors observed – meaning, structure, visual. 

Once student assessment was complete, teachers came together to form combined reading groups from all classes. For example, students from Primary 1 and 2 reading at level 5 would belong to the same guided reading group, and assigned a teacher. Teachers then decided who would lead which groups and what the expectations were during the guided lessons for the children who weren’t reading on that day: for example, not interrupting the guided reading lesson and working quietly on independent tasks. Teachers also had to decide if they would rotate classrooms during that time block, or if students would be moving from room to room. 

I developed the lesson planner below so that the teachers responsible for the Guided Reading Program could keep everyone on the same page and ensure continuity between lessons. A decision was made that guided reading lessons would run approximately 15 – 20 minutes per group. The first column served to remind teachers of what should occur within the first 5 minutes of the lesson, during the next 5-10 minutes (as students read), and then the last 5 minutes of the lesson. The second column was for teachers to fill out their learning objectives and the focused reading strategies they would be working on. In the third column teachers needed to list activities and the materials required, and the last column was for group notes – which strategies were working for students, possible ideas for the next lesson, etc. Then the bottom row of the planner was for teachers to organize after-reading activities; these activities could be given to some groups to work on while other groups of students were doing their guided reading lessons. 

The last step to ensure the Guided Reading Program ran smoothly was the student tracking form below. Teachers needed to document student progress and areas for improvement to smooth transitions (including the possibility of new teachers) as the students moved up reading levels. Transparency and team work are key to the success of a Guided Reading Program.

The Guided Reading Program at NIS was hugely successful: student needs were met and teachers were comfortable collaborating on techniques to improve students’ reading skills. During follow-up meetings when students were being re-grouped, teachers could discuss the reading strategies that were working with their groups. Teachers also took a vested interest in all reading groups because their own classroom’s students were being taught by other teachers – improving student reading became a communal focus.

This Guided Reading Program was originally designed to accommodate shifting student needs (triggered by a decrease in the student body), and was the ideal solution for our school. But this program could also work at schools that have multiple classes of the same grade – for example, three Primary 1 classes. Would it be beneficial to have a common guided reading time slot between all three Primary 1 groups? Students from all three classes could be grouped according to their reading levels and all three classroom teachers would pool their collective skills, knowledge, and experience teaching language and reading, intensifying their impact on student learning.