Guided reading is a cornerstone practice in a classroom that aims to deliver balanced literacy instruction. This small group instructional practice enables teachers to observe student reading behaviors: how the reader engages with text and how the reader processes text. Often, guided reading involves a lesson framework that includes selecting text, providing a supportive book introduction, whisper reading the text, discussing and responding to the text. Teachers select a text that aligns with the students instructional reading level.
In recent years, guided reading instruction has grown increasingly dependent on the use of leveled text. Book rooms have been filled with a range of text levels that teachers, students and even parents have come to use to classify a students reading ability. Somewhere along the way we have substituted our quality instructional compass that guides intentional responsive decision making, for reading levels and text gradients. Too often teachers administer a DRA assessment, determine a text level, find a corresponding text in the book room, and voila! Guided reading!
Enter the common core. Enter text complexity.
Teachers are now being asked to do guided reading a little differently. Skip the supportive book introduction, increase exposure to increasingly complex texts, and foster accountable talk through the use of text dependent questions.
This change has prompted a host of reactions across educational blogs (Shanahan on Literacy), in many professional journals ( The Reading Teacher), and countless lunchrooms.
But this sea change is less about guided reading and text levels and more about the importance of teacher knowledge and teacher expertise when it comes to instructional decision making.
Guided reading in the age of the Common Core continues to require small group instruction, ongoing assessment, use of text gradients, fluency probes, and an understanding of the reading process. None of that has changed. What has changed is the emphasis on text complexity and the need for all students to have equal access to grade level text and opportunity to engage with texts beyond their instructional level. Research has demonstrated that students who have had a steady diet of leveled text have limited opportunities to develop their academic vocabulary, and limited opportunity to develop background knowledge and hierarchical knowledge necessary to advance content literacy.
This shift requires that teachers hone their responsive teaching skills. It requires that we become experts in grouping our students, analyzing our assessments, and knowing our students reading behaviors and how they operate on text. That involves knowing lot more than a level. It involves teachers knowing the reader AND knowing the demands of the text we provide for our readers.
We need to become experts in intentional, responsive teaching. Intentional teaching means having an instructional focus for our guided reading lesson. It means teaching for strategy or skill use when reading connected text. It means intentionally teaching our students HOW to do a close reading. Responsive teaching means we have to have a repertoire of teaching moves that respond to reading behaviors our students demonstrate so that through our instructional language,we can help the reader problem solve on the run.
As we move toward understanding the role of text complexity in guided reading, we need to understand so much more than lexile levels and text gradients. We need to understand the readers we have in front of us, and the demands of the texts we choose for our guided reading lesson. And that means we have to engage in intentional, responsive teaching built on careful text selection. And that means knowing so much more than a lexile level!