Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Common Core Standards versus Guided Reading, Part I

The new common core standards are challenging widely accepted instructional practices. Probably no ox has been more impressively gored by the new standards than the widely-held claim that texts of a particular difficulty level have to be used for teaching if learning is going to happen.

Reading educators going back to the 1930s, including me, have championed the idea of there being an instructional level. That basically means that students would make the greatest learning gains if they are taught out of books that are at their “instructional” level – meaning that the text is neither so hard that the students can’t make sense of them or so easy that there is nothing in them left to learn.

These days the biggest proponents of that idea have been Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell, at Ohio State. Their “guided reading” notion has been widely adopted by teachers across the country. The basic premises of guided reading include the idea that children learn to read by reading, that they benefit from some guidance and support from a teacher during this reading, and, most fundamentally, that this reading has to take place in texts that are “just right” in difficulty level. A major concern of the guided-readingistas has been the fear that “children are reading texts that are too difficult for them.”

That’s the basic idea, and then the different experts have proposed a plethora of methods for determining student reading levels, text difficulty levels, and for matching kids to books, and for guiding or scaffolding student learning. Schemes like Accelerated Reader, Read 180, informal reading inventories, leveled books, high readability textbooks, and most core or basal reading programs all adhere to these basic ideas, even though there are differences in how they go about it.

The common core is based upon a somewhat different set of premises. They don’t buy that there is an optimum student-text match that facilitates learning. Nor are they as hopeful that students will learn to read from reading (with the slightest assists from a guide), but believe that real learning comes from engagement with very challenging text and a lot of scaffolding. The common core discourages lots of out-of-level teaching, and the use of particularly high readability texts. In other words, it champions approaches to teaching that run counter to current practice.
How could the common core put forth such a radical plan that contradicts so much current practice?

The next few entries in this blog will consider why common core is taking this provocative approach and why that might be a very good thing for children’s learning.

Stay tuned.

9 comments:

beckyg said...

I'm afraid you are misrepresenting guided reading.

Your post:

The basic premises of guided reading include the idea that children learn to read by reading, that they benefit from some guidance and support from a teacher during this reading, and, most fundamentally, that this reading has to take place in texts that are “just right” in difficulty level.

My response:

Children DO learn to read by reading. However, during a guided reading group a teacher is TEACHING FOR reading behaviors, not just giving "some" guidance and support. A teacher must select an INSTRUCTIONAL level text. "Just right" describes a book a child can read independently. An instructional level text is one where the student has something to learn about reading. The teacher knows there is work in the text for the child and teaches and prompts for it when necessary. The goal is to teach the student to take on reading behaviors that will allow him to process and comprehend increasingly complex texts independently. Good instruction in reading strategies will allow students to take on those hard texts. Which, by the way, are not ignored in guided reading. Teachers who know their students will be expected to navigate hard texts will teach them how to go about reading and understanding texts that are difficult.


Your post:

A major concern of the guided-readingistas has been the fear that “children are reading texts that are too difficult for them.”

My response:

No, the fear is that children are given texts that are too difficult for them and expected to read and understand them.

Your posts are dangerous and could be construed as throwing out the whole idea of meeting children where they are at in order to move them forward. In addition, you've painted the teaching that occurs during a guided reading lesson as fluff and not the rigorous instruction that it is. No child will understand hard text without instruction and initial support - i.e. guided reading groups.

Also, I think separating guided reading from the rest of the balanced literacy framework is unfair as well. The framework components work together, and are ideally suited for teaching with the depth and rigor required by the new common core.




Anonymous said...

I'm afraid you are misrepresenting guided reading.

Your post:

The basic premises of guided reading include the idea that children learn to read by reading, that they benefit from some guidance and support from a teacher during this reading, and, most fundamentally, that this reading has to take place in texts that are “just right” in difficulty level.

My response:

Children DO learn to read by reading. However, during a guided reading group a teacher is TEACHING FOR reading behaviors, not just giving "some" guidance and support. A teacher must select an INSTRUCTIONAL level text. "Just right" describes a book a child can read independently. An instructional level text is one where the student has something to learn about reading. The teacher knows there is work in the text for the child and teaches and prompts for it when necessary. The goal is to teach the student to take on reading behaviors that will allow him to process and comprehend increasingly complex texts independently. Good instruction in reading strategies will allow students to take on those hard texts. Which, by the way, are not ignored in guided reading. Teachers who know their students will be expected to navigate hard texts will teach them how to go about reading and understanding texts that are difficult.


Your post:

A major concern of the guided-readingistas has been the fear that “children are reading texts that are too difficult for them.”

My response:

No, the fear is that children are given texts that are too difficult for them and expected to read and understand them.

Your posts are dangerous and could be construed as throwing out the whole idea of meeting children where they are at in order to move them forward. In addition, you've painted the teaching that occurs during a guided reading lesson as fluff and not the rigorous instruction that it is. No child will understand hard text without instruction and initial support - i.e. guided reading groups.

Also, I think separating guided reading from the rest of the balanced literacy framework is unfair as well. The framework components work together, and are ideally suited for teaching with the depth and rigor required by the new common core.




Tim Shanahan said...

But Becky, your claims for guided reading don't actually match up well with the Pinnell and Fountas book on the topic. They are, for instance, very specific about how to get kids into their "instructional level", but there is no information about how or when to move them to more challenging text.

Similarly, it is possible that children are learning routines that are being explicitly taught by the teacher (usually through mini-lessons), but Pinnell and Fountas are quite specific about the need to minimize this by placing students appropriately in text and by thorough preparation for reading (through picture walks and the like).

Finally, the idea of matching students to texts in the way that this approach recommends does not match well with the research. It is not that students do not learn in guided reading (they certainly do), but placing students in relatively more challenging materials and providing greater guidance (not minimizing it as they recommend)leads to greater amounts of learning.

Tim Shanahan said...

Anonymous--
You can redefine "instructional level" here and use it differently than it used in the field of reading (in which it is operationalized in terms of the degree of oral reading fluency and reading comprehension that students can accomplish on a first read), but then we are talking about something very different. Pinnell and Fountas are specific about how well students need to be able to read books for them to be considered at the students' instructional levels. The problem is that those matches were made up; they don't have empirical support.

When you say that it is dangerous to encourage teachers to teach with harder books than in the past, you are ignoring the fact that we have been making books easier and easier for students in school and it has had the opposite effect. So if you want kids to read well, perhaps the dangerous thing is to keep insisting that they be placed in materials that don't give them much opportunity to learn. Our ability to assess students and texts are far from perfect, and when you try to make the very fine distinctions needed to get students into just the right book, you are likely (a good share of the time) to place students in text where there is nothing to learn about reading. If you place them in more challenging materials, you will definitely have to teach more explicitly and the students will have to grapple with texts more than they do now, but the payoff will be more learning.

The Terminatrix said...

Wouldn't it make more sense to teach children explicitly how to interact with text as dictated by the CCSS with text they can actually read and then gradually introduce more challenging text that they can apply these newly learned skills with?

Tim Shanahan said...

That is perfectly reasonable (to introduce an approach to reading with an easier text and then to take on more challenging texts)... as long as you get to the more challenging texts. What we have seen in schools (and in the advice given to teachers) is a heavy emphasis on placing kids in relatively easy materials, but with little or no attention to moving kids up. Common core sets text levels that students have to reach--but it does not indicate what level texts students need to work with (I would recommend a mix of levels, not only in the common core ranges, but below and above them, too).

Gail A said...

Dr. Shanahan, In response to your comment (October 23, 2012) at 8:38 AM) regarding the belief that teachers have given "little or no attention to moving kids up", is what I disagree with. Not only does Fountas and PInnell provide reading level correlation charts , but many districts do as well.. and teachers pay attention. These charts outline the span of levels a child should reach within a school year.
As a teacher and reading coach for over 30 years, I carefully plan a trajectory for each child, thus ensuring an above grade level reader by the end of the year. I believe guided reading has a place in the early years, but would be open to learning more about text complexity with my youngest learners.

Tim Shanahan said...

I'm happy to hear it, Gail. If you look at their book on Guided Reading there is substantial information on how to place students initially and NONE of the information that you indicate that they use elsewhere. I have no doubt that some teachers are good about this, but my experience says that far too many kids languish.

I agree with you that such careful placement likely does matter initially (PreK-1); beyond that, the research suggests that it doesn't matter--we're holding kids back in those years for no good reason.

Laurie Andes, Salisbury University said...

I recently heard you speak at the Maryland IRA conference, April 10, 2013. You certainly challenge long held traditions....I think there is an opportunity here to direct teachers to focus more on student interest than reading level. Kids can make enormous gains when they read what is interesting to them, regardless of the level. I worry that we will disengage readers by forcing them to read dense text on topics that are of little interest to them. If they are passionate about a topic, they will read even the most difficult text. The challenge is still to get them excited about learning--about something, anything, that will get them to want to read.