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What is Guided Reading? (Part 1: Assessing reading level)

Michele Dufresne

A friend and former literacy colleague emailed me the other day asking if I had any videos of guided reading lessons she could use with teachers she is doing professional development work with. I hunted around and realized most of the guided reading video I have is in VHS format. I decided it might be helpful to compile and share some resources related to guided reading for all teachers.

First, just what is guided reading?

Guided reading is a lesson during which the teacher helps a small group of students read a new book. The instructional goal is for the lessons to lead to the students’ increased ability to read more and more complex text (i.e. harder books). 

There are 6 important steps involved in planning and carrying out a successful guided reading lesson:

1. Assess each student’s reading level

2. Select a book for the group

3. Provide students with an overview or a book introduction

4. Have all students read the book (with help from the teacher)

5. Discuss the story

6. Do one or two follow-up teaching points

Guided Reading, Pioneer Valley Books

In this post, I will be going into detail about the first guided reading step: assessing each student’s reading level.  

To assess student levels, you can use some kind of standardized leveled book assessment, such as the Developmental Reading Assessment, the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark assessment, or the Rigby PM Benchmark assessment. All of these assessments will give you a ballpark for what level to begin guided reading. To save yourself time if you are not sure what level to start the assessment at, you can use a reading vocabulary assessment such as our High Frequency Vocabulary Assessment.

If you do not have a standardized set of assessment books to use, that is okay. You can easily create your own. Put together a set of (good) books at each level. You may want to have a nonfiction and fiction book at each level. Prepare a short book introduction for each book. Use a running record form and take a running record of the student reading the book. Ask the student to tell you a little bit about the story after he or she is done reading. If the student reads with less than 90% accuracy, you probably want to stop the assessment. 

Once you have assessed the students using running records, place each student in leveled book groups reading books they can read between a 90% and 94% accuracy. Remember, this is NOT an exact science. With support, students may be able to read at a book level higher than they assess at. After you begin guided reading you may want to shift students around a bit.

More guided reading resources

In this excellent video produced by The Reading Recovery Council of North America, the focus is on the importance of assessment through observation of reading and writing behaviors, including using running records as a tool for making decisions about guided reading placement.

Here is a link to a handy Running Record Calculator for calculating errors, accuracy, and self-correction rate.

For more on assessments, see our resources page. You will find information on how to take a running record, examples of book introductions to go with books for assessment and other useful information.

For more on guided reading in general, I strongly recommend reading Good First Teaching for All Children by Gay Su Pinnell and Irene C. Fountas (published by Heinemann). 

In my next post, I will discuss selecting just the right book for your group.

Michèle Dufresne is author of many Pioneer Valley Books  early readers (including the Bella and Rosie series), Word Solvers (Heinemann), and an early literacy and literacy intervention consultant.

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