Guided reading the romance and the reality (2012)


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Guided reading the romance and the reality (2012)

  1. 1. 268T H E I N S I D E T R A C KThe Reading Teacher Vol. 66 Issue 4 pp. 268–284 DOI:10.1002/TRTR.01123 © 2012 International Reading AssociationR TGUIDEDREADINGThe Romance and the RealityIrene C. Fountas ■ Gay Su PinnellIn thousands of classrooms around the world,you will see teachers working with small groupsof children using leveled books in guidedreading lessons. The teachers are enthusiasticabout providing instruction to the students in waysthat allow them to observe their individual strengthswhile working toward further learning goals. Booksare selected with specific students in mind so thatwith strong teaching, readers can meet the demandsof more challenging texts over time.Readers are actively engaged in the lesson asthey learn how to take words apart, flexibly andefficiently, while attending to the meaning of a text.They begin thinking about the text before reading,attend to the meaning while reading, and areinvited to share their thinking after reading. Theydeepen their understanding of a variety of textsthrough thoughtful conversation. The teachers haveembraced guided reading, “an instructional contextfor supporting each reader’s development of effectivestrategies for processing novel texts at increasinglychallenging levels of difficulty” (Fountas & Pinnell,1996, p. 25).As we look back over the decades since we wroteour first publication about guided reading, werecognize that there has been a large shift in schoolsto include guided reading as an essential element ofhigh-quality literacy education. With its roots in NewZealand classrooms (Clay, 1991; Holdaway, 1979),guided reading has shifted the lens in the teaching ofreading to a focus on a deeper understanding of howreaders build effective processing systems over timeand an examination of the critical role of texts andexpert teaching in the process (see Figure 1).We realize that there is always more to beaccomplished to ensure that every child issuccessfully literate, and that is our thesis in thisarticle—the exciting romance with guided readingis well underway, and the reality is that continuousprofessional learning is needed to ensure that thisinstructional approach is powerful.There is an important difference betweenimplementing parts of a guided reading lesson andusing guided reading to bring readers from wherethey are to as far as the teaching can take themin a given school year. If you are a teacher usingguided reading with your students, we hope that,as you read this article, your effective practice willbe confirmed while you also find resonance withsome of the points of challenge that will expandyour professional expertise. If you are a systemleader, we hope you will find new ways to supportIrene C. Fountas is Professor in the Graduate School of Education atLesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA; e-mail Su Pinnell is Professor Emeritus in the School of Teaching andLearning at The Ohio State University, Columbus, USA; e-mail 268trtr_1123.indd 268 11/17/2012 10:54:42 AM11/17/2012 10:54:42 AM
  2. 2. GUIDED READING: THE ROM A NCE A ND THE REALIT R T269the educators on your team as theycontinue to refine and expand thepower of their professional practice.The RomanceAs an instructional practice, guidedreading is flourishing. As teachers moveto a guided reading approach, the mostfrequent question they ask is: Whatare the rest of the students doing? Thefirst agenda for the teacher is to build acommunity of readers and writers in theclassroom so the students are engagedand independent in meaningful andproductive language and literacyopportunities while the teacher meetswith small groups (Fountas & Pinnell,1996, 2001). The teaching decisionswithin guided reading lessons becomethe next horizon. Next we discuss someof the changes that have taken placewith the infusion of guided reading.Providing DifferentiatedInstructionClassrooms are full of a wonderfuldiversity of children; differentiatedinstruction is needed to reach all ofthem. Many teachers have embracedsmall-group teaching as a way ofeffectively teaching the broad range oflearners in their classrooms. Becausereaders engage with texts within theircontrol (with supportive teaching),teachers have the opportunity to seestudents reading books with proficientprocessing every day. In addition, it isvital to support students in taking onmore challenging texts so that theycan grow as readers, using the textgradient as a “ladder of progress” (Clay,1991, p. 215). Inherent in the concept ofguided reading is the idea that studentslearn best when they are providedstrong instructional support to extendthemselves by reading texts that are onthe edge of their learning—not too easybut not too hard (Vygotsky, 1978).Using Leveled BooksOne of the most important changesrelated to guided reading is in the typeof books used and the way they are used.Teachers have learned to collect shorttexts at the levels they need and to usethe levels as a guide for putting the rightbook in the hands of students (Fountas &Pinnell, 1996). The term level has becomea household word; teachers use theFigure 1 Structure of a Guided Reading Lesson“The teachingdecisions withinguided readingbecome the nexthorizon.”trtr_1123.indd 269trtr_1123.indd 269 11/17/2012 10:54:43 AM11/17/2012 10:54:43 AM
  3. 3. GUIDED READING: THE ROM A NCE A ND THE REALIT Y270The Reading Teacher Vol. 66 Issue 4 Dec 2012 / Jan 2013R Tgradient of texts to organize collectionsof books for instruction. They collaborateto create beautiful book rooms that bringteachers across the grade levels to selectbooks from Fountas and Pinnell (1996,2001, 2011) levels A through Z.In many schools, neatly organizedboxes, shelves, or baskets make itpossible for teachers to “shop” in thecommon book room. They can accessa wide variety of genres and topics andmake careful text selections. Book roomsoften have special sections for booksthat are not leveled—enlarged texts (“bigbooks”) and tubs of books organizedby topic, author, or genre for interactiveread-aloud or book club discussions.Publishers have responded toteachers’ “love affair” with leveledbooks by issuing thousands of newfiction and nonfiction titles each year.Most of these texts are short enoughto be read in one sitting so readers canlearn something new about the readingprocess—strategic actions that theycan apply to the longer texts that theyread independently. The individualtitles enable teachers to choosedifferent books for different groupsso that they can design a student’sliteracy program and students can take“different paths to common outcomes”(Clay, 1998).Conducting BenchmarkAssessment ConferencesBecause they need to learn students’instructional and independent readinglevels, teachers engage in authentic,text-based assessment conferencesthat involve students in reading realbooks as a measure of how they read,a process that 20 years ago was newto many. Administered during thefirst weeks of school, an assessmentconference with a set of carefullyleveled texts yields reliable data to guideteaching (e.g., Fountas and Pinnell,2012). The information gained fromsystematic assessment of the way areader works through text providesteachers with new understandingsof the reading process. Teachers arelearning that accurate word reading isnot the only goal; efficient, independentself-monitoring behavior and theability to search for and use a variety ofsources of information in the text arekey to proficiency.Using Running Recordsto Determine Reading LevelsA large number of teachers havelearned to use the standardizedprocedure of running records (Clay,1993) to make assessment more robust.They can code the students’ readingbehaviors and score the records, notingaccuracy levels. From that information,they make decisions about the levelthat is appropriate for students toread independently (independentlevel) and the level at which it wouldbe productive to begin instruction(instructional level). Sound assessmentchanges teachers’ thinking aboutthe reading process and is integral toteaching.Using a Gradient of Textto Select BooksThe A to Z text level gradient (Fountas& Pinnell, 1996) has become a teacher’stool for selecting different texts fordifferent groups of children. Teachershave learned to avoid the daily strugglewith very difficult material that will notpermit smooth, proficient processing—no matter how expert the teaching.Instead, they strive for text selection thatwill help students read proficiently andlearn more as readers every day, alwayswith the goal of reading at grade levelor above. Teachers look to the gradientas a series of goals represented as sets ofreading competencies to reach across theschool years.Attending to Elementsof Proficient Reading: Decoding,Comprehension, and FluencyAssessment of students’ reading levelsand the teaching that grows out of itgo beyond accurate word reading. Inaddition to the goal of effective wordsolving, teachers are concerned aboutcomprehension of texts. Many students“Sound assessment changes teachers’thinking about the reading process and isintegral to teaching.”“Efficient, independentself-monitoringbehavior and theability to search forand use a variety ofsources of informationin the text are key toproficiency.”trtr_1123.indd 270trtr_1123.indd 270 11/17/2012 10:54:43 AM11/17/2012 10:54:43 AM
  4. 4. GUIDED READING: THE ROM A NCE A ND THE REALIT R T271learn to decode very well and canread words with high accuracy. Theirthinking, though, remains superficial,sometimes limited to retelling orremembering details or facts.Comprehension is assessed indifferent ways, usually after reading.Attention is increasingly focused oncomprehension as the central factorin determining a student’s ability toread at a level. Fluency, too, has gainedimportance in teaching, especiallybecause it figures so strongly in effectivereading. Teachers are concernedabout students’ ability to processtexts smoothly and efficiently, andspecific instruction is dedicated to thedevelopment of reading fluency.Using the Elements of a GuidedReading LessonTeachers have learned the partsof the guided reading lesson—internalized the elements, in fact,so that they consistently provide anintroduction to a text, interact withstudents briefly as appropriate whilereading, guide the discussion, maketeaching points after reading, andengage students in targeted word workto help them learn more about howwords work. They have learned waysof extending comprehension throughwriting, drawing, or further discussion.Even students know the parts of thelesson in a way that promotes efficientwork.Building Classroom Librariesfor Choice ReadingTeachers have realized the importanceof a wide inventory of choice readingin building students’ processingsystems. They have created beautifullyorganized classroom libraries filled witha range of fiction and nonfiction textsthat encourage students’ independentreading. You can notice books withtheir covers faced front, arrangedby author, topic, or genre, as well asbooks organized by series or by specialaward recognition. Students choosebooks according to their interests andspend large amounts of time engagedwith texts of their choice that do notrequire teacher support for independentreading.The End of the BeginningAll these developments have beenaccomplished with tremendous effortand vision on the part of teachers,administrators, and others in theschools or district. It takes greateffort, leadership, teamwork, andresources to turn a school or districtin the direction of rich, rigorous,differentiated instruction. Creatinga schedule, learning about effectivemanagement, collecting and organizingleveled books, providing an authenticassessment system and preparingteachers to use it, and providing thebasic professional development to getguided reading underway—all arechallenging tasks. Having an efficientlyrunning guided reading program isan accomplishment, and educatorsare justifiably proud of it. However,as Winston Churchill said, “Nowthis is not the end. It is not even thebeginning of the end. But it is, perhaps,the end of the beginning.”Many have experienced the romancein the journey, and the reality is thatthere will be more for everyone tolearn as we move forward. We havesummarized our general observationsof the accomplishments of decadesof guided reading and the challengesahead in Figure 2.Of course, our descriptions will notfit any one teacher or group of teachers,but along with relevant challenges, wehope they provoke thinking by raisingsome issues related to growth andchange. The compelling benefits ofguided reading for students may eludeus unless we attend to the teachingdecisions that assure that every studentin our care climbs the ladder of success.Let’s think about some of the areas ofrefinement that lie ahead in our journeyof developing expertise.The RealityThe deep change we strive forbegins with the why, not the how,so our practices can grow from ourcoherent theory. Our theory can alsogrow from our practice as we usethe analysis of reading behaviors tobuild our shared understandings andvision. To change our practices in anenduring way, we need to changeour understandings. If we bring ourold thinking to a new practice, therationales may not fit (Wollman,2007). Teaching practice may often beenacted in a way that is inconsistentwith or even contrary to the underlyingtheory that led to its development(Brown & Campione, 1996; Sperling& Freedman, 2001).The practice of guided readingmay appear simple, yet it is not simply“It takes great effort, leadership, teamwork,and resources to turn a school or district inthe direction of rich, rigorous, differentiatedinstruction.”trtr_1123.indd 271trtr_1123.indd 271 11/17/2012 10:54:43 AM11/17/2012 10:54:43 AM
  5. 5. GUIDED READING: THE ROM A NCE A ND THE REALIT Y272The Reading Teacher Vol. 66 Issue 4 Dec 2012 / Jan 2013R Tanother word for the small-groupinstruction of the past. We addressthree big areas that offer new learningin the refinement of teaching in guidedreading lessons, bringing together theromance in guided reading with thereality of its depth. These areas can besummarized as readers and the readingprocess, texts, and teaching. As wediscuss each area, notice the aspects thatreflect your growing edge as a readingteacher.A Shared Understandingof the Process of ReadingSome teachers have learned to besatisfied with their students simplyreading accurately. This practice hasled to pushing students up levelswithout evidence of their control ofthe competencies that enable themto think within, beyond, and abouttexts at each level. The goal of theguided reading lesson for students isnot just to read “this book” or evento understand a single text. The goalof guided reading is to help studentsbuild their reading power—to builda network of strategic actions forprocessing texts. We have described12 systems of strategic activities,all operating simultaneously in thereader’s head (see Figure 3).Thinking Within the Text. The firstsix systems we categorize as “thinkingwithin the text.” These activities aresolving words, monitoring and correcting,searching for and using information,summarizing information in a way thatthe reader can remember it, adjustingreading for different purposes and genres,and sustaining fluency. All these actionswork together as the reader movesthrough the text. It is essential tosolve words; after all, reading mustbe accurate. It is just as important toengage the other systems. Readersconstantly search for information inthe print, in the pictures; they knowwhen they are making errors, and ifnecessary, they correct them. Theyreconstruct the important informationand use it to interpret the next partof the text. Kaye’s (2006) study of theword solving of proficient second-gradereaders showed the following:When students are efficientlyprocessing text, they flexibly drawfrom a vast response repertoire. Theyuse their expertise in language andtheir knowledge of print, stories,and the world to problem solve asthey read. Supported by mostlycorrect responding, readers areable to momentarily direct theirattention to the detail of lettersand sounds as needed. When theyneed to problem solve words ingreater detail, second graders candraw upon their orthographic andphonological knowledge with incredibleflexibility and efficiency, usually usingthe larger subword units. Then they arefree to get back to the message of thetext. (p. 71)Figure 2 Decades of Guided Readingtrtr_1123.indd 272trtr_1123.indd 272 11/17/2012 10:54:43 AM11/17/2012 10:54:43 AM
  6. 6. GUIDED READING: THE ROM A NCE A ND THE REALIT R T273Thinking Beyond the Text. The nextfour systems call for “thinking beyondthe text.” They are inferring, synthesizing,making connections, and predicting.Reading is a transaction between the textand the reader (Rosenblatt, 1994); that is,the reader constructs unique meaningsthrough integrating backgroundknowledge, emotions, attitudes, andexpectations with the meaning thewriter expresses.When several of us read the sametext, we do try to understand thewriter’s message and share muchwith each other. At the same time,each reader’s interpretation is unique.Readers infer what the writer means butdoes not say; they make connectionswith their personal experiencesand other texts. They bring contentknowledge to the text and synthesizenew ideas. They make predictionsbefore, during, and after reading.Thinking About the Text. The last twosystems represent how the proficientreader analyzes and critiques the text.Readers hold up the text as an objectthat they can look back at and analyze.They notice aspects of the writer’scraft—appreciate language, literarydevices such as use of symbolism, howcharacters and their development arerevealed, beginnings and endings.They critique texts: Are they accurate?Objective? Interesting? Well written?A Complex Theory. Reading isfar more than looking at individualwords and saying them. Readersare in the fortunate position ofencountering language that is createdmostly by unknown individualswho may be distant in space andtime. The systems of strategic actionstake place simultaneously in thebrain during the complex process ofreading. The proficient reader developsa network like a computer, onlythousands of times faster and morecomplex. The brain learns, making newconnections constantly and expandingthe system. Clay (1991) described theprocess:This reading work clocks up moreexperience for the network with each ofthe features of print attended to. It allowsthe partially familiar to become familiarand the new to become familiar in an ever-changing sequence. Meaning is checkedagainst letter sequence or vice versa,phonological recoding is checked againstspeech vocabulary, new meanings arechecked against the grammatical andsemantic contexts of the sentence andFigure 3 A Network of Processing Systems for Reading“The reader constructs unique meanings throughintegrating background knowledge, emotions,attitudes, and expectations with the meaning thewriter expresses.”trtr_1123.indd 273trtr_1123.indd 273 11/17/2012 10:54:45 AM11/17/2012 10:54:45 AM
  7. 7. GUIDED READING: THE ROM A NCE A ND THE REALIT Y274The Reading Teacher Vol. 66 Issue 4 Dec 2012 / Jan 2013R Tthe story, and so on. Because one routeto a response confirms an approachfrom another direction this may allowthe network to become a more effectivenetwork. However the generativeprocess only operates when the readingis ‘good,’ that is, successful enough tofree attention to pick up new informationat the point of problem-solving. Aninterlocking network of appropriatestrategies which include monitoring andevaluation of consonance or dissonanceamong messages that ought to agree iscentral to this model of a system whichextends itself. (pp. 328–329)The amazing thing is that all ofthis complex cognitive activity isaccomplished simultaneously and atlightning speed; proficient readers arelargely unconscious of it (Clay, 1991).We are writing here about the efficient,effective, fluent processing that allowsreaders to keep the greater part ofattention on the meaning of the text.Teachers cannot see into the brainsof effective readers, and the processbreaks down the moment you makereaders try to describe their processing(much like watching your fingers whileplaying the piano).However, skillful teachers have asharp observing eye, with the ability tonotice and understand the evidence ofprocessing shown in the behaviors ofstudents—how they read and what theyreveal through conversation about whatthey read. Understanding the readingbehaviors that are evident in a studentwho is processing well helps the teacherdetect inefficient or ineffective readingand take steps to offer support. You canalso notice the way proficient readerschange over time; sometimes progress isdetectable every day!When students engage in smooth,efficient processing of text with deepunderstanding, they can steadilyincrease their abilities. That meansmuch more than just moving up levels;the goal is to build effective processingsystems. It isn’t easy, but guided readingoffers that opportunity.Fluent Processing: An EssentialElement of Effective Reading. Deepcomprehension is not synonymouswith speed, nor, surprisingly, is readingfluency. Some in the educationalcommunity seem to have becomeobsessed with speed. However,measuring fluency only as wordsper minute is a simplistic view and aprocedure that may do harm. In ourwork, we emphasize pausing, phrasing,word stress, and intonation far morethan rate.Rasinski and Hamman (2010)reviewed the research and found thatthe norms for reading speed havegone up, but these increases havenot been matched by improvementin comprehension. They believe thatthe way reading fluency has beenmeasured has influenced practice andin some places had a devastating effecton reading itself. We now see studentswho read rapidly and robotically, oftenskipping without problem solving everyword not instantly recognized. Theresult is a loss of comprehension andconfusion for the student about what itmeans to read.We recognize that proficient readersdo move along at a satisfying rate,but fluency can’t be measured by ratealone—certainly not by measuringthe rate of reading word lists. Readingfluency means the efficient and effectiveprocessing of meaningful, connected,communicative language. Accordingto Newkirk (2011), “the fluent reader isdemonstrating comprehension, takingcues from the text, and taking pleasurein finding the right tempo for the text”(p. 1). He hastens to explain that he doesnot mean the laborious, word-to-wordstruggle to read something that is clearlytoo hard for the reader. And he saysthere is no ideal speed. The speed has todo with the relationship we have withwhat we read. He describes his ownentry to a book:I enter a book carefully, trying to get afeel for this writer/narrator/teller that Iwill spend time with. I hear the language,feel the movement of sentences, payattention to punctuation, sense pauses,feel the writer’s energy (or lack of it),construct the voice and temperament ofthe writer. (p. 1)Oral Language: An Essential Elementof Effective Reading. Reading islanguage and language is thinking. Oneof the purposes of guided reading is tobring the control of oral language to theprocessing of a text. Of course, oral andwritten language have important andsubtle differences, but oral language isthe most powerful system the youngchild brings to initial experiences withthe reading process. As readers growmore proficient, language still playsa strong role. The most obvious is therole of the oral vocabulary, which isextremely important. However, teachersalso consider the reader’s grasp ofsentence complexity and the speaker’sunderstanding of metaphor, simile,“When students engage in smooth, efficientprocessing of text with deep understanding, theycan steadily increase their abilities.”trtr_1123.indd 274trtr_1123.indd 274 11/17/2012 10:54:46 AM11/17/2012 10:54:46 AM
  8. 8. GUIDED READING: THE ROM A NCE A ND THE REALIT R T275expression, idioms, and other nuancesof speech.Students’ language development isimportant, and there is no better way toexpand it than to engage them in livelyconversation (not just questions andanswers) about any exciting subject aswell as about books. When students talkabout their reading, they tend to use thelanguage of texts, which is usually morecomplex than their own. Guided readingincludes such discussion every day,and teachers are working toward richerconversations that will extend students’language far beyond a dry recounting ofthe story.Using Systematic AssessmentThe assessment system needs toprovide the behavioral evidencethat is consistent with a sharedunderstanding of the readingprocess. It should link directly to ourteaching. Good assessment is thefoundation for effective teaching.Assessment in its simplest formmeans gaining information about thelearners you will teach. The “noticing”teacher tunes in to the individualreader and observes how the readerworks through a text and thinks abouthow the reading sounds. For someteachers, assessment stops at findinglevels because they have not hadthe opportunity to develop furtherunderstandings of the value of specificbehaviors to inform teaching. Theassessment may be used to report levels,and then the data are filed without thebenefit of their richness.Using Assessment to Group andRegroup Readers. In a comprehensiveapproach to literacy education, small-group teaching is needed for thecareful observation and specificteaching of individuals that it allows,as well as for efficiency in teachingand the social learning that benefitseach student. For some teachers,guided reading groups may havebecome the fixed-ability groups ofthe past. Teachers need to becomeexpert in forming and reforminggroups to allow for the differences inlearning that are evident in students.Some students may not develop thesame reading behaviors in the sameorder and at the same pace as others.The key to effective teaching is yourability to make different decisions fordifferent students at different pointsin time, honoring the complexity ofdevelopment.A key concept related to guidedreading is that grouping is dynamic—temporary, not static. Teachersgroup and regroup students as theygain behavioral evidence of theirprogress. In our experience, the reasongroups don’t change enough is thatno systematic ongoing assessmentsystem is in place for teachers to useto check their informal observationswith what students demonstrate whenasked to read a text without teachersupport. When teachers use ongoingrunning records in a systematic way(more frequently with lower achievingstudents and less frequently with higherachieving students), the data are used tomake ongoing adjustments to groups.Often the only assessment in place isbeginning, middle, and end of yearassessment, and nothing systematichappens in between.Often teachers have a history ofusing prescriptive programs in whichstudents are expected to pass throughthe same books or materials so groupsmay remain the same for a long periodof time. In guided reading, text selectiondoes not follow a fixed sequence thatstudents must progress through; thereare no workbooks or worksheets thatmust be completed before movingforward. Teachers are expected to selectdifferent books for the groups and tomove students more quickly or slowlyforward as informed by their expertanalysis.Using Assessment to Guide TeachingAll Year. A system for intervalassessment such as a benchmarkassessment conference using runningrecords even two or three times ayear is not enough. The benchmarkinformation is old news in a fewweeks. To make effective decisionsfor readers, you also need an efficientsystem for ongoing assessment usingrunning records. A running recordusing yesterday’s instructionalbook takes the place of benchmarkassessment with “unseen text.” Therunning record becomes a useful toolfor assessing the effects of yesterday’steaching on the reader.“Good assessmentis the foundation foreffective teaching.”“Teachers need to become expert in forming andreforming groups to allow for the differences inlearning that are evident in students.”trtr_1123.indd 275trtr_1123.indd 275 11/17/2012 10:54:46 AM11/17/2012 10:54:46 AM
  9. 9. GUIDED READING: THE ROM A NCE A ND THE REALIT Y276The Reading Teacher Vol. 66 Issue 4 Dec 2012 / Jan 2013R TYour professional development mayhave stopped with coding and scoringreading behaviors; you may not havehad the opportunity to become expertat their analysis and use in informingyour teaching. When you go beyondcoding and scoring, you make a bigshift in the way you think about yourteaching decisions in the lesson. Ratherthan teaching the level or the book, younotice and are able to use the behavioralevidence to guide your next teachingmoves. We see this kind of teaching asthe “precision teaching” that makesguided reading lessons powerful.Reading teachers are like scientistsgathering precise data and using it toform hypotheses. For example, youcan use running records or benchmarkassessments to:■ Assess the accuracy level■ Assess fluency■ Observe and code oral readingbehaviors systematically to notewhat students do at difficulty or aterror and learn how students aresolving problems with text■ Engage the student in conversationto assess comprehension at severallevelsFrom Assessment to Teaching: Usinga Continuum of Literacy Learning.When you understand the complexityof the reading process, you are ableto teach toward the competencies ofproficient readers. A precise descriptionof the behaviors of proficient readersfrom levels A to Z constitutes thecurriculum for teaching reading. Alevel is not a score; it stands for a set ofbehaviors and understandings that youcan observe for evidence of, teach for,and reinforce at every level.Think about all the behaviors thatare observable in readers who processa text well. Of course the behaviorsof effective processing at level A willlook very different from those at levelC or M or S. To support your ability toteach for changes in reading behaviorsover time, we developed TheContinuum of Literacy Learning GradesPreK-8: A Guide to Teaching (Pinnell& Fountas, 2011). The Continuumprovides a detailed description of thebehaviors of proficient readers that areevident in oral reading, in talk, and inwriting about reading so that you canteach for change in reading behaviorsover time.Understanding Leveled Textsand Their Demands on ReadersThe Fountas & Pinnell A–Z text gradientand high-quality leveled books arepowerful tools in the teaching of reading(see Figure 4). The appropriate textallows the reader to expand her readingpowers. To become proficient readers,students must experience successfulprocessing daily. Not only should theybe able to read books independently,building interest, stamina, and fluency;they also need to tackle harder booksthat provide the opportunity to growmore skillful as a reader.Successful processing of the morechallenging text is made possible by anexpert teacher’s careful text selectionand strong teaching. If the book is toodifficult, then the processing will not beproficient, no matter how much teachingyou do.Consider the situation whenevery student in the room (andsometimes in the grade level) isreading the same book. Most of thereaders will not be encountering text“Successful processing of the more challengingtext is made possible by an expert teacher’scareful text selection and strong teaching.”Figure 4 F&P Text Level Gradienttrtr_1123.indd 276trtr_1123.indd 276 11/17/2012 10:54:46 AM11/17/2012 10:54:46 AM
  10. 10. GUIDED READING: THE ROM A NCE A ND THE REALIT R T277that, with teacher support, causesthem to expand their reading powers.For some, the books are too easy;for many, much too hard. Thereare many reasons for whole-groupinstruction, and we recommend thatit take place every day in interactiveread-aloud or reading minilessons.However, ensuring that all studentsdevelop an effective reading processrequires differentiated instruction. One-size-fits-all or single-text teaching doesnot meet the varied needs of diversestudents.Many teachers use levels to selectthe books for students, but thatraises several more questions. First,not all leveled books are equal. Justbecause a book has a level does notmean it is a high-quality selection.Some leveled books are formulaicor not accurately leveled. Teachersneed to look carefully at books inthe purchasing process to assurethey are well written and illustrated.They also need to check to be surethat the Fountas and Pinnell levelhas been accurately determined. Itwill be frustrating to select a bookand begin to use it with a group,only to find it is too easy or toodifficult to support learning. Second,when teachers understand the 10text characteristics that are used todetermine the level, they understandits demands on the reader and canuse it in a more powerful way inteaching.Understanding a text is far morethan noticing hard words and comingup with information or a “main idea.”Skilled teachers of guided readingunderstand how a text requires a readerto think—the demands that every textmakes on the reader. We consider anunderstanding of text characteristicsan extremely important area of teacherexpertise.Teachers do more than applymechanical formulas by looking atsentence and word length (althoughthose are important); we recommendan analysis that takes into accounttext complexity. We have described 10characteristics of text difficulty (seeFigure 5).Teachers consider thecharacteristics of genres and specialforms; some genres and forms aremore difficult than others, withsimpler and more complex textsof every type. Teachers notice andunderstand the text structure—the way it is organized—as wellas underlying structures such ascompare and contrast. They assessthe level of content (what backgroundknowledge will be required) and thethemes and ideas. Highly abstractthemes and ideas make a text morechallenging. Many texts have complexlanguage and literary features such aselaborate plots, hard-to-read dialogue,or figurative language that make theFigure 5 Ten Characteristics Related to Text Difficultytrtr_1123.indd 277trtr_1123.indd 277 11/17/2012 10:54:47 AM11/17/2012 10:54:47 AM
  11. 11. GUIDED READING: THE ROM A NCE A ND THE REALIT Y278The Reading Teacher Vol. 66 Issue 4 Dec 2012 / Jan 2013R Ttexts more interesting and at the sametime more challenging.Sentence complexity, too, is afactor, one that is usually measuredby mechanical readability formulas.Works with many embedded clausesand long sentences are harder. Teachersalso consider the number of long,multisyllabic, or hard to decode wordsin a text and the complexity of thevocabulary. Illustrations in fiction canadd meaning or mood to the text, andgraphics in nonfiction offer additionalcomplex information. Book and printfeatures play a role as well. The size ofprint, layout, punctuation, and othertext features such as charts, diagrams orsidebars—all go into the analysis of textdifficulty.Using these characteristics, wecreated the A to Z text gradientto give teachers a useful tool forguided reading instruction and apicture of student progress over time(see Figure 6). Notice how Ronald hasprogressed from kindergarten throughgrade 8 in a high-quality instructionalprogram.The gradient offers guidance inselecting texts, but it’s important toremember that levels are not writtenin stone. Background experienceand unique characteristics of readersfigure into their processing of texts sothat most students read along a fairlynarrow range of levels, depending oninterest and whether they are workingindependently or with strong support.We would not situate a reader at asingle level and insist that all readingbe there.The ability to analyze textsrepresents important teacherknowledge that takes time to develop.Many teachers of guided reading havespent a great deal of time analyzingand comparing texts using the 10characteristics and have become“quick” analyzers of texts. Theymatch up their understandings withtheir knowledge of the studentsin the group. When they teach aguided reading lesson, they can planquickly what they need to say inthe introduction and anticipate keyunderstandings to talk about in thediscussion. When you understandthe inner workings of a text, you canintroduce it well and guide a powerfuldiscussion.Teaching for a ProcessingSystem: The Role of FacilitativeTalk in Expanding ReadingPowerAt first, guided reading may beperceived only as a process ofconvening small groups, usingFigure 6 Record of Book-Reading Progresstrtr_1123.indd 278trtr_1123.indd 278 11/17/2012 10:54:48 AM11/17/2012 10:54:48 AM
  12. 12. GUIDED READING: THE ROM A NCE A ND THE REALIT R T279leveled books, and following a lessonframework. Often, teachers use thesmall-group format, the steps of thelesson, and a set of leveled books butbring their old theory to this newpractice. Professional developmentsupport does not go far enough toenable them to do powerful teachingbeyond these initial steps. Guidedreading is much more. It is aninstructional context within which theprecise teaching moves and languagechoices are related to the behaviorsobserved, moment by moment, andwhich guide the reader to engage inproblem solving that expands his orher reading power.The skilled teacher of guided read-ing makes decisions throughout thelesson that are responsive to the learn-ers. Each element supports readers ina different way, with the goal of help-ing them think and act for themselves.You expertly shape the introductionto support readers’ ability to success-fully process the text. The introductionsets the stage for effective reading ofthe text. During reading, you can uselanguage to demonstrate, prompt,and support the reader in efficientprocessing.Your language is also a criticalarea of your expertise. Throughprecise language, you facilitatereaders’ problem-solving powerand their ability to initiate effectiveactions as they become self-regulating readers (Clay, 2001).Use language in specific waysto demonstrate, show or teach,prompt for, and reinforce strategicactions. With brief yet powerfulfacilitative language, you canscaffold students during the time yousample oral reading. Short, focusedinteractions with individuals allowreaders to learn how to problem solvefor themselves (Fountas & Pinnell,2009). Some examples of preciselanguage that helps students build aprocessing system are presented inFigure 7.As your students discuss the text,you can use facilitative languagethat promotes dialogue. Get readersthinking and using what they know.Through the discussion, they expandcomprehension. Your teaching pointsaddress the precise needs of the learnersyou teach. They involve responsiveteaching based on your observationof the readers and the opportunitiesoffered by the text. Notice the examplesof specific language to support analyticthinking in the discussion of a text (seeFigure 8).“The ability to analyze texts representsimportant teacher knowledge that takestime to develop.”Figure 7 Facilitative Talktrtr_1123.indd 279trtr_1123.indd 279 11/17/2012 10:54:49 AM11/17/2012 10:54:49 AMFACILITATIVE TALKTeach Prompt ReinforceSEARCHINGFOR AND USINGMEANINGINFORMATIONYou can try that againand think what wouldmake sense.Try that again andthink what wouldmake sense.You tried thatagain and now itmakes sense.SEARCHING FORAND USINGVISUALINFORMATIONYou can look for apart you know.(Usefinger to cover lastpart.)Look for a part youknow.You looked fora partyou knew and ithelped you.FLUENCY You need to put yourwords together so itsounds like talking.Listen to how I readthis.Put your wordstogether so itsounds like talking.You put yourwords togetherand it sounds liketalking.SELF-MONITORINGIt has to make senseand look right,too.Let me show you howto check.Does that makesense and lookright?That makes senseand looks right.
  13. 13. GUIDED READING: THE ROM A NCE A ND THE REALIT Y280The Reading Teacher Vol. 66 Issue 4 Dec 2012 / Jan 2013R TThrough word work, you helpreaders develop flexibility withwords and word parts, noticingsyllables, working with letters andsounds, and understanding themorphemic structure of words. Theoption to extend the understandingof a text involves more than justan assignment. Many teachersof guided reading have studentsuse their readers’ notebooks towrite about their reading in a waythat supports and expands theircomprehension.Using Self-Reflection to Growin Teaching Guided ReadingHigh-quality, highly effectiveimplementation of guided readinginvolves a process of self-reflection.You are very fortunate if you have acolleague with whom you can talkanalytically about lessons. Eachtime you work with a small groupof students, you can learn a littlemore and hone your teaching skills.(We believe that students who haveteachers who also are learningare equally fortunate. That makesthe whole experience a lot moreexciting!) In Figures 9 and 10, we offersome guidance for you to pause andponder. Ask yourself some criticalquestions about the guided readinglesson. You’ll find that you becomemore aware of the skillful teachingmoves you have made, as well asFigure 8 Examples of Language to Support Analytic Thinking About TextNote. From Fountas & Pinnell (2012).Figure 9 Pause and Ponder: Teachingthe ReaderFigure 10 Pause and Ponder: Resultsof the Lessontrtr_1123.indd 280trtr_1123.indd 280 11/17/2012 10:54:50 AM11/17/2012 10:54:50 AM
  14. 14. GUIDED READING: THE ROM A NCE A ND THE REALIT R T281the thought that “I might have…” or“tomorrow I will…”. Reflective teachingis rewarding because you are learningfrom teaching.Providing Variety andChoice in the ReadingProgramEducators have sometimes madethe mistake of thinking that guidedreading is the reading program orthat all of the books students readshould be leveled. We have arguedagainst the overuse of levels. Wehave never recommended that theschool library or classroom librariesbe leveled or that levels be reported toparents.We want students to learn to selectbooks the way experienced readersdo—according to their own interests,by trying a bit of the book, by noticingthe topic or the author. Teachers canhelp students learn how to choosebooks that are right for them to readindependently. This is a life skill. Thetext gradient and leveled books area teacher’s tool, not a child’s label,and should be deemphasized in theclassroom. Levels are for books, notchildren.Guided reading provides thesmall-group instruction that allowsfor a closer tailoring to individualstrengths and needs; however, studentsalso need age-appropriate, grade-appropriate texts. Therefore, guidedreading must be only one componentof a comprehensive, high-qualityliteracy effort that includes interactiveread-aloud, literature discussion insmall groups, readers’ workshop withwhole-group minilessons, independentreading and individual conferences,and the use of mentor texts for writingworkshop. Students learn in wholegroup, small group, and individualsettings.Guided reading instruction takesplace within a larger framework thatbrings coherence to the students’school experience. It does not standalone. The expert teacher is able todraw students’ attention to importantconcepts across instructional contexts.For example, a teacher may helpstudents attend to how readers need tothink about not only what the writersays (states), but also what he or shemeans (implies) in contexts such asthese:■ Guided reading (small group,leveled books)■ Literature discussion (small-groupbook clubs or whole class, notleveled books)■ Interactive read-aloud (whole class,not leveled books)■ Independent reading withconferences (individual, not leveledbooks, self-selected)■ Reading minilessons (whole class,not leveled books)In guided reading andinteractive read-aloud, the teacherselects the book; in other contexts,students have choice. They are taughtways to assess a text to determinewhether it will be interesting andreadable. Whole-class minilessonsoften involve using a whole rangeof books as mentor texts. Theentire literacy/language programrepresents a smooth, coherent wholein which students engage a varietyof strategic actions to process a widevariety of texts.Growth Over TimeThe lesson of guided readingdevelopment over the years is thatit cannot be described as a seriesof mechanical steps or “parts” of alesson. The lesson structure is onlythe beginning of providing effectivesmall-group instruction for students ofall ages. Powerful teaching within thelesson requires much more.It is interesting to reflect on whataspects of guided reading tend to beeasiest or hardest for teachers to takeon. Bryk et al. (2007) found empiricalevidence for teacher development ofsome of the complexities of guidedreading. He and his colleaguesconstructed an instrument calledthe Developing Language andLiteracy Teaching rubrics and testedit for reliability. A series of controlled,systematic observations indicated thatthe instrument distinguished between“novices” and “experts” in severalcontexts for literacy teaching.A very helpful result of the studywas that the analysis of items revealeda “scale” that provided evidence ofthe dimensions of instruction fromless to more frequently observed(item difficulty), and this item mapwas consistent across teachers. Theresearchers were able to demonstrateincreasing levels of sophistication.In Figure 11, you see the chart for“The lesson structure is only the beginning ofproviding effective small-group instruction...Powerful teaching within the lesson requiresmuch more.”trtr_1123.indd 281trtr_1123.indd 281 11/17/2012 10:54:51 AM11/17/2012 10:54:51 AM
  15. 15. GUIDED READING: THE ROM A NCE A ND THE REALIT Y282The Reading Teacher Vol. 66 Issue 4 Dec 2012 / Jan 2013R Tdevelopment of levels of expertise inguided reading.On the horizontal axis, you seedimensions of instruction, and on thevertical axis, you see the level of itemdifficulty, meaning that it seemed totake longer for teachers to develop thisarea of expertise in guided reading, andthese items tended to separate novicesfrom more expert teachers. It seems thatearly on, teachers take on tasks such asbook selection (aided by the levels andthe bookroom) and parts of the lessonsuch as text introduction. We wouldargue that even these componentsrequire complex thinking and can beimproved once acquired. Effectiveprompting for use of strategies alsoraises the sophistication, and, finally,acting “in the moment” to engagestudents in a rich discussion and maketeaching points based on observationare the most challenging on this scale.In addition, when we consider that thisstudy was completed before a great dealof new research on comprehension wasaccomplished, the need for ongoingprofessional development is compellingindeed.We realize that achieving a highlevel of expertise in guided reading isnot easy. It takes time and usually thesupport of a coach or staff developer.Research indicates that it is fairly easyto take on the basic structure of guidedreading, for example, the steps ofthe lesson. However, that is only thebeginning of teacher expertise. Teachingfor strategic actions and “on your feet”interaction with students is much morechallenging.You bring an enormous and complexbody of understandings to the teachingof guided reading. Yet, with appropriatehigh-quality professional developmentand ongoing support, it is possible forevery teacher to implement guidedreading more powerfully in everyclassroom. Skilled teachers of guidedreading have the pleasure of seeingshifts in their students’ reading abilityevery week—sometimes every day.Through guided reading, studentscan learn to deeply comprehend texts.And perhaps most importantly, theyexperience the pleasure of reading wellevery day.To make the guided readingjourney successful, we call forresources in the form of excellentlywritten, attractive, and engagingleveled books and for access to high-quality professional developmentfor teachers. Our own experienceFigure 11 Development of Expertise in Guided ReadingNote. From Bryk et al (2007).“Teaching for strategic actions and‘on your feet’ interaction with students ismuch more challenging.”trtr_1123.indd 282trtr_1123.indd 282 11/17/2012 10:54:51 AM11/17/2012 10:54:51 AM
  16. 16. GUIDED READING: THE ROM A NCE A ND THE REALIT R T283indicates that one-to-one literacycoaching with a highly trained andknowledgeable professional developeris very effective. An importantfederally funded study supportsthe use of coaches (Biancarosa,Hough, Dexter & Bryk, 2008; for asummary). Teachers had professionaldevelopment and coaching over fouryears to implement all elements of aliteracy framework. The research teamgathered data on 8,500 children whohad passed through grades K–3 in 17schools; they collected fall and springDynamic Indicators of Basic EarlyLiteracy Skills (DIBELS) and Terra Novadata from these students as well asobservational data on 240 teachers. Theprimary findings showed that:■ The average rate of studentlearning increased by 16% in thefirst implementation year, 28%in the second year, and 32% inthe third year—very substantialincreases.■ Teacher expertise increasedsubstantially, and the rate ofimprovement coincided withthe extent of coaching teachersreceived.■ Professional communicationamong teachers in the schoolsincreased over the three-yearimplementation, and the literacycoordinator (coach) becamemore central in the schools’communication networks.Guided reading was only onecomponent of the literacy frameworkimplemented in the schools researchedin the preceding study, but it wasan important one. The importanceof the literacy coach, who conductsprofessional development sessions,models good teaching, and mostimportantly observes teachers inthe classroom and dialogues withthem to collegially mentor theirgrowth in understanding andimplementation of effective teaching,appeared to be paramount in theprocess. And even these schoolswere only at the beginning of thejourney. However, the study showsthat achieving substantial schoolwidegrowth is possible if a community ofeducators are willing to undertake thejourney.The BeginningIn this article, we have describedsome wonderful changes that havebrought teaching closer to students. Ifwe take a romantic view, we could saythat once we have the book room, small-group lessons, and leveled books andthings are running smoothly, we havearrived in the implementation of guidedreading. However, the heart of thisarticle is what we have learned frommany years of engaging teachers andstudents in guided reading—what itstrue potential is, and what it takes torealize it. That’s the reality.In the case of guided reading,facing reality reaps endlessly positiverewards. Facing reality means thatthere is more exciting learning to do.Teaching and managing educationalsystems is energizing when we areworking collaboratively toward newgoals. The accomplishments we havealready made simply give way to newinsights.You may have made a verygood beginning in using guidedreading to develop your students’reading power, and that is asatisfying accomplishment. It isalso a development that enablesyou to have important insights thatyou can build upon. As you lookat your educational program, youmay be noticing some of the issueswe have described here. That canput you on the path to work towardeven higher goals on behalf of yourstudents. We hope you are excitedto know that more challengeslie ahead in your growingprofessional expertise and that thereare tools to help you meet thosechallenges.REFERENCESBiancarosa, G., Hough, H., Dexter, E., & Bryk,A. (2008, March). Assessing the value-addedeffects of coaching on student learning. Paperpresented at the meeting of the NationalReading Conference, Orlando, FL.Brown, A.L., & Campione, J.C. (1996).Psychological theory and the design ofinnovative learning environments: Onprocedures, principles and systems. InGlaser, R. (Ed.), Innovations in learning: Newenvironments for education (pp. 289–325).Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Bryk, A., Kerbow, D., Pinnell, G.S.,Rodgers, E., Hung, C., Scharer, P.L.,et al. (2007). Measuring change in theinstructional practices of literacy teachers.Unpublished manuscript.Clay, M.M. (1991). Becoming literate: Theconstruction of inner control. Auckland, NewZealand: Heinemann.Clay, M.M. (1993). An Observation Survey ofEarly Literacy Achievement. Portsmouth, NH:Heinemann.Clay, M.M. (1998). Different paths to commonoutcomes. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.Clay, M.M. (2001). Change over time in children’sliteracy development. Portsmouth, NH:Heinemann.“Achieving substantial schoolwide growth ispossible if a community of educators are willingto undertake the journey.”trtr_1123.indd 283trtr_1123.indd 283 11/17/2012 10:54:52 AM11/17/2012 10:54:52 AM
  17. 17. GUIDED READING: THE ROM A NCE A ND THE REALIT Y284The Reading Teacher Vol. 66 Issue 4 Dec 2012 / Jan 2013R TFountas, I.C., & Pinnell, G.S. (1996). Guidedreading: Good first teaching for all children.Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.Fountas, I.C., & Pinnell, G.S. (2001). Guidingreaders and writers: Teaching comprehension,genre, and content literacy. Portsmouth, NH:Heinemann.Fountas, I.C., & Pinnell, G.S. (2009). Promptingguide part 1: For oral reading and early writing.Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.Fountas, I.C., & Pinnell, G.S. (2011). Fountasand Pinnell benchmark assessment systems1 and 2 (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH:Heinemann.Fountas, I.C., & Pinnell, G.S. (2012). Promptingguide part 2: For comprehension. Portsmouth,NH: Heinemann.Holdaway, D. (1979). Foundations of literacy.Sydney, Australia: Ashton Scholastic.Kaye, E.L. (2006). Second graders’ readingbehaviors: A study of variety, complexity, andchange. Literacy Teaching and Learning, 10(2),51–75.Newkirk, T. (2011). The art of slow reading.Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.Pinnell, G.S., & Fountas, I.C. (2011). Thecontinuum of literacy learning, grades preK-8: Aguide to teaching (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH:Heinemann.Rasinski, T., & Hamman, P. (2010). Fluency:Why it is “Not Hot.” Reading Today, 28, 26.Rosenblatt, L.M. (1994). The transactionaltheory of reading and writing. In R.B.Ruddell, M.R. Ruddell, & H. Singer(Eds.), Theoretical models and processes ofreading (4th ed., pp. 1057–1092). Newark,DE: International Reading Association.doi:10.1598/0872075028.48Sperling, M., & Freedman, S.W. (2001). Researchon writing. In Richardson, V. (Ed.), Handbookof research on teaching (4th ed., pp. 370–389).Washington, DC: American EducationalResearch Association.Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind and society:The development of higher psychologicalprocesses. Cambridge, MA: HarvardUniversity Press.Wollman, J.E. (2007). “Are we on the samebook and page?” The value of sharedtheory and vision. Language Arts, 84(5),410–418.trtr_1123.indd 284trtr_1123.indd 284 11/17/2012 10:54:52 AM11/17/2012 10:54:52 AM