Friday, July 13, 2012

Common Core or Guided Reading

Recently, I've been fielding questions about guided reading (à la Fountas and Pinnell) and the common core; mainly about the differences in how they place students in texts. Before going there, let me point out that there is a lot of common ground between guided reading and common core, including high quality text, the connections between reading and writing, the emphasis on high level questions and discussion, the idea that students learn from reading, and so on. Nary a hint of conflict between the two approaches on any of those issues.

Not so with student-book placements; on that there is a substantial divide. Guided reading says go easy, and common core says challenge them. Easy, according to F&P, means placing kids in books that they can read with better than 90% accuracy and with high reading comprehension (and they make no distinction between beginners and more adept readers in this regard). For common core, making it challenging means placing students, second grade up, in books that would be frustration range according to F&P; books that students would read with markedly lower fluency and comprehension on a first read.

How can these schemes be so different?

Fountas and Pinnell advocate for a system of text placement that has been widely and long accepted in the field of reading (I've previously written about the sources of those ideas). F&P add to that a philosophical position that maintains students learn best from figuring things out themselves from reading, rather than from the explicit instruction a teacher might provide. In their plan, much of the teacher’s work is devoted to accomplishing an appropriate placement of students in texts, and they strive to minimize the distance between what a text demands and what students can now do current so that students can scale these small challenges with minimum teacher input.

Any student/text differences can be reduced even more, in the F&P scheme, by providing background information about the text through picture walks and the like. Over time, by reading texts that gradually get harder, students learn to read by reading books that they understand and enjoy. F&P are candid that book placement does not always work out and that, under such circumstances, teachers may have to provide mini-lessons or other supports. Nevertheless, they stress the importance of minimizing the need for such supports. As good a job as they do in demonstrating how to get students to the correctly leveled texts, they provide surprisingly little info about how and when to advance students to higher levels; students may languish at a level since there is no well-worked out plan for ensuring progress.  

By contrast, the common core intentionally would have teachers place students in texts that are more challenging. The CCSS levels, if accomplished, should allow students to read well enough by high school graduation to be college and career ready. Traditional placement schemes lead to students completing high school approximately 2-3 reading levels below what is actually needed—that’s why so many students require remediation in college.

The more challenging text placements presume that teachers will provide extensive scaffolding, explanation, support, and teaching to enable success. Since the common core is not, by and large, invested in any particular instructional methods (close reading push is a notable exception), it can set text levels based on learning goals and the very real need to get students to particular levels before they graduate, rather than trimming the text levels to fit pedagogical philosophy.  

I think most common core advocates would say, “The issue is not how much teaching teachers have to do, but how much students can learn in the time we are working with them. If teaching students with more challenging texts leads to greater amounts of learning, then we accept the burden of having to teach more.” Fountas and Pinnell, too, want kids to learn, but their philosophy is that this learning works best when kids negotiate the reading system on their own, and that justifies the idea of not demanding too much in terms of text difficulty. For F&P how you learn is as important as what you learn.  

F&P’s version of guided reading has been around for almost 20 years, but there are other versions of the idea that go back much further. There must be a lot more research evidence supporting their approach than the one now being espoused by the common core. Unfortunately, that is not the case. We do not have studies showing the effectiveness of guided reading over other approaches.

Many teachers might respond: “Studies or no studies, I know guided reading works because I have taught with it and my students make good progress.”

There is absolutely no question that students can learn with guided reading (that they have learned with it, and that they will continue to learn with it). Guided reading is widely used in U.S. schools. But there is an issue of opportunity costs here; would students learn more if they were placed in more challenging texts? We, of course, can never gauge the success of the alternatives that were not tried.

Studies, quoted in previous blogs, show that students can make real learning progress while matched to a variety of text levels, though they tend to do best when matched with more challenging texts than guided reading advocates recommend. Thus, placing students in easy text CAN lead to learning, but placing students in more challenging texts and then making sure they can successfully negotiate them (through rereading, analysis of information, etc.) may lead to even greater success.

At the end of the day, the disagreement is philosophical rather than empirical—it is about the desirability of teaching. If you think it is better for kids to figure things out with minimal scaffolding, then it makes sense to control the degree of challenge; too much difficulty would only lead to failure and frustration. However, if, on the other hand, you think it is okay to provide students with as much support as they might need to engage successfully in a particular task, then limiting difficulty too much would reduce the opportunity to learn.

In general, I think the common core approach is the right one – it puts greater emphasis on teaching and long range learning goals than on text placement. And, yet, we are depending on educators –including me – who were prepared more to place students in books than to teach them. The success of the common core depends not just on the use of more challenging texts (that’s the easy part), but on whether teachers will have the patience and foresight to provide sufficient and appropriate scaffolding that will help the students to figure out the meaning of a challenging text without being told what it says.


Meghan said...

Are you seriously telling teachers to just "teach more"? What are they doing in their classrooms now, taking naps?

If you knew anything about teachers and teaching you would know that teachers are, by and large, working as hard as they can, and if it were possible to give individual attention to 25 students at one time, they would be doing that. But that is not possible.

Anonymous said...

I think you have misrepresented the work of Fountas and Pinnell. A thoughtful and well-planned guided reading lesson includes teaching before, during and after the reading of a text that is slightly more difficult than the previous day's text. A book introduction (not a picture walk) might include the introduction of unfamiliar vocabulary, concepts, language structures and/or words that the children are not yet able to solve on their own. During the reading, the teacher teaches, prompts and reinforces effective strategies for solving words and comprehending, as needed. After the reading, there is another opportunity to revisit the text to reinforce needed skills and behaviors. Guided reading makes it possible to provide more personalized instruction by grouping students who have similar strengths and needs. All of this differentiated teaching, of course, requires that the teacher have a good understanding of both what the students current control and the reading process. It is a challenge and a joy to be given that responsibility to move each student forward every day.

Tim Shanahan said...


I neither believe that (most) teachers are taking naps nor that teachers should be teaching each individual child (you can't tutor 25 students all day). I do think many teachers keep very busy during the day, but that doesn't mean they are doing much teaching (babysitting can be exhausting too).

Teaching requires more than having students practice in a context in which they will do relatively well. It is great not to frustrate kids, but learning comes from a certain amount of frustration. We can neither measure children nor texts so exactly that we can match kids to books in the narrow range called for by Fountas and Pinnell (or, previously, by me). But placing students in texts that they struggle more with requires that teachers not just observe, but that they model, explain, encourage repetition, isolate parts of the performance for special practice, etc. In guided reading the teacher doesn't nap, but if the child is matched to the text appropriately and is prepared for it thoroughly, there isn't much to teach--since the kids can already read the text with a high degree of accuracy and understanding.

Tim Shanahan said...

Hi Anonymous,

I definitely did not misrepresent guided reading. In fact, you have described it very well and your description matches my summary. But how do you ensure that the text that you use tomorrow is "slightly more difficult" than the one that you used today? Our ability to measure text difficulty (or student need) is not that reliable or accurate. Also, if you are selecting books as advised you are going to ensure that the students can read with 90% accuracy and high comprehension without ANY teacher assistance. By reviewing the vocabulary, concepts, language structure (and picture walks too), you reduce the opportunity for learning even more. Admittedly, it doesn't always work--sometimes a student may still have difficulty (goodness, something to teach). Fountas and Pinnell, like Anonymous, believes that students shouldn't confront any real challenges or ideas in text, but that teachers should anticipate and head off all of those experiences. The kind of rereading that you are talking about is useful practice (of word reading), but it definitely is not rereading to think more deeply about the ideas in a text.

Diana Sharp said...

Seems to me that successfully giving students texts that require more struggle is going to require a lot more attention to providing texts and/or purposes for reading that students actually care about, making the struggle worth the effort to them. Perhaps this trend may also eliminate the tendency (in some schools) to tell children they can't read a book "above their level" even if they are dying to do so. I am reminded of a quote (can't think of the source, though I think it was in Reading Today) about not restricting kids from difficult books they really want to read, "If it comes to a choice between reading level and interest, go with interest every time."

Tim Shanahan said...


You are right about all of this. If you are going to place students in materials that they cannot read easily, then motivation, explanation, rereading, questioning, etc. ALL become more important. But by the same token--as you point out--the selection of more interesting texts is possible, too.

Tessa Trimm said...

Mr. TIm,
The shift to more complex text in the CCSS is definitely going to be one of the biggest changes for many classroom teachers. The comments made thus far are proof in themselves. I recently attended a workshop about implementing CCSS and a colleague of mine said it best, "we've been good for a long time at matching text to our readers, now we've got to learn how to match our readers to the text." While this is a major shift, and a great one I want to add, it is quite difficult at the K-1 level. Our primary focus to increase text complexity with these young learners has been through read alouds. Another challenge we have faced is the necessity to build foundational skills witthout decontextualizing our instruction. What advice can you offer for K-1 teachers about text complexity and foundational skills instruction?

Tim Shanahan said...

At kindergarten and grade 1, my advice is that you should not ramp up text difficulty on the reading end. I am a big believer in reading complex texts to kids (books that they definitely cannot read themselves), but with regard to beginning reading you want a mix of texts that expose kids to a high concentration of very high frequency words and that have a large percentage of words that can be decoded with relatively simple phonics (such as one-to-one correspondences of letters to sounds, and preferably non-conditional matches of letters to sounds). By the time students can handle high first grade level texts, then you can start to move them up in difficulty. Initially, keep your emphasis on mastering the decoding system. If you ramp up the text difficulty too early, I fear that you will slow that process down.

SharonHayes said...

I am reading blogs like yours and following Twitter to learn more about the Common Core. Specifically, I am interested in text complexity. Could you please suggest some resources you have found on text complexity?

Tim Shanahan said...

If you go to my other blog entries on the common core and on text difficulty (there is an index on the right hand side of the page) you will find what I have written on the topic and many of those entries have references. good luck.

Anonymous said...

I don't see the conflict between F&P and CCS...when students read independently they read at an "independent" level which is easy for them, when they are in guided reading groups they read at instructional level which is harder and requires teacher support. If they need teacher support to read something, they should not be reading it independently.

Tim Shanahan said...


The only conflict is that during the guided reading groups teachers won't be placing students in books as easy as those recommended by F&P. In fact, the materials will be quite a bit harder in grades 2-12.


Heather said...

I have a few questions:

Is there an accuracy rate (percentage of words read correct) at which you would advise the text is "too difficult"?
How does what you describe differ from shared or interactive reading?
Do you have suggested scaffolding techniques listed anywhere?

Tim Shanahan said...


I don't think there is a specific level of difficulty that optimizes learning. It is a combination of the student level--text level match and the amount and quality of support that you provide. The harder the text for the student, the greater the amount of support needed.

There are many techniques shown in my blogs on text complexity (find the ones that have powerpoints). All of those features of text that are difficult to interpret can benefit from some kind of teacher support (or follow up query).

good luck.

Amy Boyden said...

I think you may be confusing matters a bit, careful planning does not equal avoidance of teaching. It is my understanding that Fountas and Pinnell encouraged taking the smallest steps, careful book choices for those children who were struggling or at risk so that the child who lacked confidence could learn to try, and be confident that he/she would succeed. Pushing a child too quickly is certainly not a beneficial tool in this instance. For other children I didn't feel pressured to take such small steps and depending on their progress may jump a level altogether.
Also I don't allow a child to languish at a level because they are timid. Certainly much of F&P's work was devoted to accelerating children's reading progress.
I taught children 1:1 using their methods, and in addition taught in the regular classroom using Guided Reading, and in my mind if a child languished at a particular level there was teaching to be done to help them navigate to a more difficult level of reading. I am not saying closer attention to acceleration through the levels should not be considered. I also think being aware of the scope of skills a child will need to progress is crucial. For some children teaching skills must happen more incrementally, but there is a judgement call here on when to do this for the benefit of the child. I would recommend doing this to benefit a child rather than to fit a program of instruction.

K. Dunlap said...

For common core, making it challenging means placing students, second grade up, in books that would be frustration range according to F&P

I may be misreading the Common Core, but this doesn't match what I have been hearing about CC reading. The standard is what students should achieve by the end of the year. So, the idea of just dropping kids into challenging texts doesn't seem to accurately reflect the intent of the standard.
From my limited experience, the only real problem I have seen with the approach advocated by F&P and others is that it is often poorly executed - once matched with a text level, many students are left there without the coaching, instruction, encouragement to move on. That is NOT the F&P way.

I think the best solution is somewhere in middle. (I say this about nearly every issue in education lately!) I can't give "too hard" text to kids 100% of the time and expect that enough "scaffolding" will get them reading. But I can't just let them loll about reading "easy" books either. So, what's to debate? There is room in the classroom for multiple approaches.

Tim Shanahan said...

You are correct that no one is required to just drop students into much harder text throughout the year--and that the standards indicate what level texts students need to handle by the end of the school year. However significant numbers and percentages of children if tested against the F&P criteria will be reading far below those levels early in the school year. The idea that you are going to spend the year teaching kids at their instructional level and then in April or May you'll jump their instruction by 1-3 years is not a likely approach. Guided reading contends that students need to be taught at their instructional level (and I can't find the part in the F&P book where the students ever read more challenging texts--which is why this can't be blamed on poor implementation); instructional level as defined by F&P is not only lower than common core, it is often lower than grade level materials.

Tim Shanahan said...

Teaching beginning readers one-on-one is very different than teaching classrooms of students grades 2-12. You are correct that guided reading calls for teachers to present students with challenges, but really small challenges. There are at least a couple of problems with the scheme: (1) We are not able to measure either the difficulty of text or the ability of students accurately in such fine-grained ways. In fact, given the standard errors of measurement, one would expect students to be spending much of their time working with text from which nothing could be learned at all. (2) Research supports placing students in somewhat harder material than recommended in guided reading--students make bigger gains when given a chance to learn.

I have no problem with the guided reading scheme to get kids started (so your experience of teaching one-on-one is not necessarily misleading you about that). But trying to generalize from that experience to what works best in very different circumstances would be a mistake in my opinion.

Stacy said...

I am blessed to be working in a district in Florida that has had many opportunities to work with various groups in implementing the shift to Common Core. We just took part in a training designed by the Aspen Center and various literacy leaders across the nation. My understand of text complexity as it relates to ELA Standard 10 has become so much stronger as a result. Information in Appendix A of the CCSS may be helpful to some of your readers in understanding the difference between the text selection recommended by F & P and that of common core. I'm not sure that everyone has a grasp yet on how a text is determined to be "complex" and this may give them some insight. The CCSS text analysis worksheet is very helpful. As a teacher who has implemented Guided Reading or years, I can not look at that text analysis worksheet and even begin to claim that I examined text in that way for Guided Reading. In fact, I chose the book based one the level that was already given. I certainly never looked at the knowledge demands, language demands, etc. I look forward to the shift in our practice.

Kathy said...

I would wish the tone of this conversation was more collegial so that those of us with varied experience in classrooms and with theories of how this all works in classrooms were talking as peers. We all contribute expertise.

Misinterpretations abound. No one who is thinking about the readers they work with would under challenge them or ask them to languish in easy books. Guided reading lessons are scheduled to help readers build on their strengths and build new skills. Independent reading and guided reading are just two of many kinds of reading experiences in classrooms.

Implementing new "standards" will be most successful when teachers inquire into the strengths and challenges of their current reading "program" and how they can add vigor to it. As someone who has coached in many schools, it looks different in different places. Thanks, Stacy, for offering one tool--the text analysis worksheet--to help start that work.

Meg said...

As a kindergarten teacher whose kids start mostly at a Pre-A or A DRA reading level, I spend the first 3 months of the year teaching them how words work. We tear them apart and put them back together, research the history of various words, talk about what we can "sound out" or what plays fair and what doesn't, learn all of our digraph sounds, and become proficient at over 100 sight words. We work hard but we have lots and lots of fun doing it. By January, the kids are reading just about any early reader you hand them - from Dr. Seuss to Mo Willems to Robert Munsch. By the end of the year, the majority of my kids are at a fluent DRA24 and can't test higher because of the written component of the test. Of course, when I've worked with a higher ELA population, my end of the year levels have declined, but I have never had a child leave me who was not above grade level. It can be done. It can be done in a developmentally appropriate way. It can be done with lots and lots of fun. And it opens up so many doors. Don't sell our kiddos short.

Mrs. Gee said...

I am a secondary English teacher. How will my 11th grade students be able to handle increased text complexity when this has not been their practice before now? I can't suddenly expect a 16 or 17 year old to be able to read more complex text when they have not been pushed all along. Most of my students are probably reading at about a 5th or 6th grade level, and they do very little reading outside the classroom. I realize that the move to CCSS is a process; however, I am feeling pressure from administrators who want to see overnight success. Our district is transitioning to CCSS, and after every benchmark exam (which is somewhat aligned to CCSS and not to our current state EOC test), I get the same question: Why aren't students doing better? The simple answer (with no simple solution) is that they are struggling with the text. They have been taught the concepts, they understand what the question is asking, but because they do not understand what they have read, they cannot answer the questions. I am all for increased rigor, but this needs to start at the lower levels. We are on a block system, which means I have these students for about five months, which is not enough time to increase their reading ability. I am a good teacher, but I do not know how to do this.

Tim Shanahan said...

Mrs. Gee--

There is absolutely no question that, if this plays out correctly, it should get easier. Initially, however, because your students have had none of the benefits of doing this kind of hard work for the years before they get to you, the weight of this will fall on you (and really all teachers as they try to make this cultural change).

I would also say that no matter how well implementation of CCSS goes, there will still always be a range of reading levels in your class. The difference is that instead of approaching the issue as one of simply getting kids into the same book, the emphasis now can be on how much scaffolding is needed to allow students to learn from the books that you are trying to teach. Some kids will need greater supports than others.

good luck.

Michael said...

I have taught elementary and currently teach middle school language arts. One thing that has been bothersome since I began teaching middle school is a lack of differentiating instruction to students needs. I am trying to research best practices and lead an action plan for my school as I work towards my masters. I understand that students are now expected to read at a more difficult and complex text level with CCSS. I can’t imagine handing out a text of the same difficulty level to 30 students and expecting the same results. There still needs to be varying levels of text in a classroom. How would you suggest to meet the varying levels of students in your classroom? How should the lesson delivery look? I have been concluding that small group explicit instruction, with more complex text would be somewhere to start with students who are my least capable readers. It would be a goal to confer with these struggling readers daily if possible. Other research I have conducted states that one-to-one or homogeneous small group instruction garners the best results for teaching. I would provide more freedom with my more accomplished readers knowing they already have the skills and understanding of how to dissect a more complex text. Do you believe whole class direct instruction is a best practice for teaching our readers? I have been arguing that our classroom teachers need to homogeneously group students and target specific reading skills that they are lacking. There has been a lot of discussion about guided reading and CCSS, I believe what I have discussed adapts elements of guided reading to meet some of CCSS. Thank you for your response.

Tim Shanahan said...

I'll post an answer to this one as my blog entry of February 18. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I am interested in learning more on what guided reading should look like now in the first grade with common core. I am wanting to make changes so that I am teaching the most effective way that is also aligned to the common core. Any tips? Ideas? Suggestions? Also what should reading now loom like? How much time should we put forth to GR and our normal reading block and what should a typical day look like?
We have a VERY old rading series in my district and unfortunately won't be getting a new one for awhile so we have to Mack changes as needed.

Also what books and or resources would you reccomend? Love your blog thanks for all the information!

Tim Shanahan said...

Frankly, I don't think common core changes things that much for grades K-1. Reading instruction looks pretty much the same, though I like their ideas of not overdoing it with pre-reading preparation (we tend to go overboard on picture walks and prior knowledge). Put those on a diet, but they still have a place. You still would want to read to kids, but I would mix in more challenging books for such read alouds (something I did as a first-grade teacher myself--read alouds are a great time for chapter books). add some writing if you aren't doing that. keep going with phonological awareness, phonics, and fluency instruction. the bigger changes come in grade 2 and up.

Tailor-made Teaching said...

I am very interested in all that you have said about the demand of CCSS versus Guided Reading. I have been reading up on Close Reading and its application within a classroom environment. I am a first grade teacher entering into my second year of teaching. For me, this transition is not quite as shocking as I have truly learned a lot about how guided reading works with a variety of leveled groups. As you just said, I also believe this approach is helpful for first graders who are reading at a "higher" level. I found my high students, at times, stuck on the same level (K,L,M) due to their lack of comprehension. If I would have had my students attempt to tackle these levels beforehand, they could have made gains in decoding, text structure, and comprehension all at once, which would have helped them continue to move forward.

I look forward to modifying the Close Reading approach to fit my daily read-alouds! This way, all of my students (on all reading levels) can experience a complex text such as a chapter book or other complex texts. Rereading books together, analyzing the author's intent and purpose together, and making connections together will encourage students to continue this process more independently in 2nd, 3rd, 4th grade and so on.

I like what Close Reading does in terms of pulling it all together through critique, real-world understandings, and the meaning of the text on the third read. I have always found it hard to ask students to make connections before reading- as this forces students to find an interest before reading instead of having students find their own interest in the text, which should be our goal! As students create their own enthusiasm for a text, it pushes them to decode, comprehend holistically and focally, and generate a take-away message that measures what the author hopefully intended all along (without the basic scoop being given to the students before reading).

I have a few questions still as it will help me plan for the upcoming year!

Since the Close Reading requires three reads, do you suggest you do this once a week (assuming that each read would take place on a different day... 3 reads=3 days)? Or could they be done on the same day? Thinking ahead as a typical school runs five days a week.

Tim Shanahan said...

Hi Tailor Made,

First, please don't take the "three readings" idea too literally. It is a useful mnemonic, but for real use it needs to be more dynamic. For example, a text could be hard enough that students would need to read it twice to accomplish the goals of the "first reading."

Also remember that you won't give every text a close read. Right now I'm re-reading the Great Gatsby. It is well worth giving it a close read because of the symbolism, etc. However, the Danielle Steele novel doesn't require that kind of attention (there isn't a whole lot of hidden meaning, etc.) The one I might read repeatedly in order to analyze the information, and the other I might skim through once as I lay on the beach.

As to how close reading fits in a classroom, again I'd argue for dynamism. I would definitely not try to fit each text to a week. Some texts will be done in a day (probably because they don't receive a close reading), others might be accomplished in a couple of lessons (because you indeed can address a couple of the readings in a single sitting depending on the text), and others might take you a week or more--again depending on the text. Students should be reading multiple texts, and some should receive close readings and some should not.

Jennifer Hayhurst said...

Dr. Shanahan,

I was asked to read your blog post by a colleague. Your views of guided reading are a little out of touch with daily classroom practice.

As you know nothing in education remains static, and as we move up the staircase of complexity so too have our expectations for a child's "instructional level". You refer to texts as "easy" I'm not sure why you're doing that - accuracy is only one component to finding a students "instructional" level. What of the "Recommended Placement" level - this is a time where teachers can decide to put their students in a level that according to their accuracy would be frustrational but there is enough going on with the other cueing systems where this level would be appropriate and so becomes a viable instructional choice.

Furthermore, what was once considered reading "on level" is no longer the case. With the demands for greater text complexity F&P raised their expectations to match the demands of CCSS. Also, they did publish a continuum for a learning progression so teachers are aware of teaching points as they go through levels. There is also an expectations for reading various genres within levels of texts.

I also don't know if you're familiar with Jan Richardson's The Next Step in Guided Reading - but she does a lot of work with bands of text. As do F&P Emergent/ Early / Transitional/Fluent levels all those require a different instructional approach. So when you talk about students languishing on levels well, to be frank that's just bad teaching. If students are not moving - why aren't they?

I am a fan of the CCSS. I see it as an elegant document that brings a Backwards by Design model that will improve our educational system. However, I don't think it's the intention of the CCSS to take away an evidenced based practice such as guided reading, and replace it with teaching more arcane content to K-3 students (I work in a primary building). My understanding it is to make stronger readers who can think critically through text.

In a sense - books are vehicles - but teachers are the drivers. Guided Reading instruction requires you to trust that teachers have a deep understanding for their craft.

Quality instruction not just eaching more background on what would be perceived by students as being esoteric content. In other words, I don't believe that the path to rigor has to go through Babylon, as the Grade 1 ELA Domain 4 demands. Rather, it can be with age appropriate materials - that young readers would see as being relevant. As Maxine Greene once said you have to love the question.

Rigor is not a module that asks first graders to read and explain the importance of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and the use of canals to support farming and the development of the city of Babylon.

You can't box or sell good teaching - good teaching happens as teachers become more proficient with instructional approaches such as guided reading.

Tim Shanahan said...

Ms. Hayhurst,

Accuracy is not a cueing system. “Cueing systems” refers to sources of information that readers may use in reading (or misreading) a word. Cueing systems include the orthographic-phonological features of the word and the syntactic and semantic aspects of context.

Obviously, you didn’t like my criticism of the approach espoused by F&P in their widely distributed book, “Guided Reading.” You may be right that they have seen the errors of their ways and have abandoned that approach, now championing the idea of teaching kids at frustration levels instead. I don’t know if that is true, but my work in American classrooms suggests that what is going in is more in line with what they recommended in “Guided Reading.” About two-thirds of elementary teachers claim to make book placements on the basis of instructional level.

I take exception to your statement, “I don’t think it’s the intention of the CCSS to take away an evidence based practice such as guided reading” (emphasis added). The term “evidence based” refers to practices that have been demonstrated as effective through appropriate research (What Works Clearinghouse). I assure you, Ms. Hayhurst, guided reading is not an evidence-based method of teaching. If you know of any research studies that have evaluated the effectiveness of guided reading, I would be happy to read them.

Finally, I wonder about the source of your claim that I am out of touch with “daily classroom practice.” I usually don’t allow negative characterizations of others to appear on this website. I don’t make ad hominem comments and I usually don’t allow others to. However, in this case I felt like it was less a snarky comment about me than an epistemological claim (in other words you were saying I was wrong because I’m not currently a classroom teacher, and that you know daily classroom life because you are in a classroom everyday). My views are certainly shaped by my experiences over more than 40 years as a teacher’s aide, teacher, teacher educator, school administrator, curriculum designer, consultant, and parent. However, more specifically to your point, for the past four years I’ve been working on a nationwide observational study of approximately 1000 Title I classrooms (preK-3) for the U.S. Department of Education, and Wednesday I reported the results of a nationwide survey of another 1000+ K-12 teachers concerning their daily instructional practices (Thomas Fordham Institute)… One neither has to be in a classroom everyday to be insightful about classroom practice, and being in a single classroom provides a very narrow perspective on daily classroom practices.

Anonymous said...

Ever since the introduction of CCSS, I have looked to you as an excellent resource to provide logical commentary on issues related to reading and CCSS. Once again, I have come to your site to look for answers and have found some related to a timely topic in my district. We have gone to a standards based report card in K-2 and have a draft for Gr. 3-5. After report cards just came out this week, the K-2 team reconvened to discuss. Many questions arose: "If in 2nd grade they are supposed to master the 10th anchor reading standard by the end of grade level with support, do they need to master all others using grade level text?" We also use guided reading with F&P levels which seems to be, as you mentioned, locking kids into a level where they may be able to demonstrate mastery of some of the standards with their independent reading level or even instructional level materials in guided reading groups but may not be able to do it with the grade-level text on their own. So, have they really mastered the standard? I'd love to get your ideas on this.

Tim Shanahan said...

The idea of the 10th standard, the one focused on text complexity, is that it dictates the degree of difficulty that students must be able to negotiate all the other standards. If students can do the actions specified in the first nine standards at their reading level, but not at the text levels specified, then, indeed, they are not meeting the standards—any of the standards. That’s the problem with spending so much time having students working out of grade level and it is why the writers of the Common Core so discourage that approach or that approach alone.

Tim Shanahan said...

The idea of the 10th standard, the one focused on text complexity, is that it dictates the degree of difficulty that students must be able to negotiate all the other standards. If students can do the actions specified in the first nine standards at their reading level, but not at the text levels specified, then, indeed, they are not meeting the standards—any of the standards. That’s the problem with spending so much time having students working out of grade level and it is why the writers of the Common Core so discourage that approach or that approach alone.

is, was, will always be: adrienne marie said...

I feel that there is a bit of a misinterpretation of Fountas and Pinnell's original intention for finding a student's frustrational level through their Benchmark Assessment System. As a third grade teacher, I would encourage students to read within their level of mastery when reading independently, but I would use texts 1-2 levels above their current level during guided reading instruction. This practice is only logical, since they are receiving scaffolded instruction at guided reading it is a safe space to experience any frustration that may come from a more challenging text. However, it can be true that even through this method, students' instructional levels are several levels below grade level. This requires a balanced literacy model in which students are also exposed to mini-lessons (whole group) using grade level or slightly above grade level texts, ensuring that all students have access to instruction with appropriately complex texts.

I have seen great value in combining the two methods by bringing close reading activities into my guided reading routine. It keeps my students on their toes!

Tim Shanahan said...

No, I definitely have not misrepresented what they have written in their book. What you claim you have always done is not at all what Fountas and Pinnell recommend. They discourage teaching at the frustration level.

Anonymous said...

Are you working for them?
What are you doing on the "children of the code"website?

Where is the research for leveled literacy?

Tim Shanahan said...

Working for whom? I am on the Children of the Code website because I agreed to be interviewed. There is no research for leveled literacy or guided reading. However, this is a widely used approach and it is the basis of many programs and approaches that clearly lead to many children being able to read. The issue, however, is whether we could help children more by teaching in some other ways.

Jen said...

Mr. Shanahan-
As you said, some texts require close reading, and others do not. While I believe that close reading should be used in different contexts and lessons, I'm concerned that my school is considering a "requirement" that teachers do a close reading in each subject area each week. For elementary, that may mean at least language arts/reading, math, science, social studies -- all of the above every week. We are currently trying to use this strategy once a week and tying it closely to our reading units and standards. I'm concerned that this new idea may be "overkill" and actually turn students off (and teachers as well) to this great strategy. What are your thoughts? Is there any research to support this type of extensive use? Thank you.

Tim Shanahan said...


First, there is no research on this question. No one has any research on the teaching of close reading to children so any answer to this is a bit of a guess. However, like you, I think what you describe sounds like overkill to me--and it even flies in the face of the fundamental idea of the Common Core. The scheme that you describe ignores the text and focuses the teacher back on the skills--just the opposite of what CCSS asks for. There is ore info in this article that I wrote for American Educator:

Tim Shanahan said...


First, there is no research on this question. No one has any research on the teaching of close reading to children so any answer to this is a bit of a guess. However, like you, I think what you describe sounds like overkill to me--and it even flies in the face of the fundamental idea of the Common Core. The scheme that you describe ignores the text and focuses the teacher back on the skills--just the opposite of what CCSS asks for. There is ore info in this article that I wrote for American Educator:

Tim Shanahan said...


First, there is no research on this question. No one has any research on the teaching of close reading to children so any answer to this is a bit of a guess. However, like you, I think what you describe sounds like overkill to me--and it even flies in the face of the fundamental idea of the Common Core. The scheme that you describe ignores the text and focuses the teacher back on the skills--just the opposite of what CCSS asks for. There is ore info in this article that I wrote for American Educator:

Jen H. said...

Thanks so much!

Lisa S. said...

I regularly read your blog, and remember seeing this original post. I came to reread it because this very discussion came up in a grade level CCS planning meeting the other day. We had a long discussion about how guided reading will look with the units we're planning. In short, we're thinking that small flexible groups will need to be pulled as we work to scaffold instruction with rigorous text that we know will frustrate our lowest readers. We will still have time for (in our current Workshop schedules) independent reading, and about 20 minutes or so for ONE F & P type group for lowest readers. Our principal has made some noise that we will not be "compliant" with Tier 1 as it relates to RtI. I'm confused about that, as I mentioned we could be pulling small flex groups who need scaffolding with the harder text. I'm very curious to hear your thoughts on this matter. My team is a bit stressed. (BTW-we teach grade 3) Thanks in advance for any clarifications you can provide.

Tim Shanahan said...

Thanks, Lisa. I agree with you. It makes the greatest sense to scaffold student reading of challenging text in situations when maximum observation and support is possible (which would be individually or in small group). The notion of RtI is that students should be receiving intensive and extensive instructional support that is research supported. In fact, studies show that with struggling readers it is possible to successfully guide students to handle harder texts -- and that it isn't necessary to just place students in easier texts.

Tim Shanahan said...

Thanks, Lisa. I agree with you. It makes the greatest sense to scaffold student reading of challenging text in situations when maximum observation and support is possible (which would be individually or in small group). The notion of RtI is that students should be receiving intensive and extensive instructional support that is research supported. In fact, studies show that with struggling readers it is possible to successfully guide students to handle harder texts -- and that it isn't necessary to just place students in easier texts.

Tim Shanahan said...

Thanks, Lisa. I agree with you. It makes the greatest sense to scaffold student reading of challenging text in situations when maximum observation and support is possible (which would be individually or in small group). The notion of RtI is that students should be receiving intensive and extensive instructional support that is research supported. In fact, studies show that with struggling readers it is possible to successfully guide students to handle harder texts -- and that it isn't necessary to just place students in easier texts.

Susie Pruit-Crowe said...

This is what I gather from your post, that the main issue with Guided Reading is not the process of how the reading is being taught but with what level of text and what level of frustration by the student.

I do have another question of what your thought are with regards to the Units of Study by Lucy Culkins, and the work being done at Teacher's College?

Tim Shanahan said...

Guided reading is a combination of readers trying to make sense of a text that is sufficiently difficult that they require support and guidance, an adult holding kids accountable for the reading (questions).

I think Calkins' units of study are quite good. They mark a big departure from her past work. At one time, she belittled the idea of writing about ideas that kids would confront in text and now she is embracing that idea. Her units look to me to be intellectually challenging for kids.

Carole said...

Mr. Shanahan...

Our first grade team is using CCSS in the classroom where our students are receiving grade level instruction and exposed to books daily at or above their assessed level in all curricular areas. We are now poised to use LLI as an intervention piece to build foundational skills with small groups of these First Graders who have been assessed as reading below grade level. The focus/goal of the LLI in our RTI is to raise these students to read at grade level within an 18-week time period. What is your advice about the use of LTI as an intervention piece?

Tim Shanahan said...

I have not used that system, nor is there any research on it, so I have no opinion. Given that it focuses on having kids reading leveled readers, I would be concerned if the students were beyond Grade 1, but since they are grade 1 readers I think that is a reasonable approach. I'm not sure how consistent its methods for raising student reading levels are with research on the topic, but would very much appreciate it if you would send me an email up-the-road to let me know how it goes. Good luck. I hope it is successful.

Tim Shanahan said...

You definitely should devote substantial time to teaching reading and listening comprehension to beginning readers (I typically devote 1/4 of the ELA instruction to that). The depth of that instruction will depend on how challenging the texts can be and (at grades K-1 and with older students who read at Grade 1 level) that is determined by how well the kids can decode. I'm happy that educators are interested in the intellectual challenge of the work that kids do, but they still need to ensure that kids develop these technical beginning reading skills if that is going to work.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful conversation on the limitations of guided reading. As a new ELA coordinator in a district that has many devotees of guided reading, I'm treading lightly on this topic. However, as I work with teachers to write a curriculum aligned to CC, I hope to open their eyes to new possibilities.

Kat Smith said...

When I think about CCSS and the push for complex text, I applaud the notion that teachers use complex text in guided reading. If we only teach students at their instructional level rather than pushing them just a tiny bit above their level, we teach them how to use reading comprehension strategies for coping with complex text rather than for understanding complex text. We teach them how to work with something just a little bit harder than they are used to reading. We teach them to dissect text, think critically about the concepts, and to tackle higher-level text. We are creating stronger readers.