Common Core or Guided Reading

  • Common Core State Standards
  • 13 July, 2012

                  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 a focus on high-quality text, the emphasis on connections between reading and writing, the concern for 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 to go easy, and common core says challenge them. Easy, according to F and P, means placing kids in books that they can read with better than 95% 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 in the frustration range according to F and 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 and P add to that a philosophical position that maintains students learn best by 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 text demands and what students can do currently so that students can scale these small challenges without much teacher input.

                  Anything in the text that the students can't handle themselves can be reduced even more, in the F and P scheme, by providing substantial background information about the text, picture walks and the like. Over time, by reading texts that are supposed to gradually get harder, students learn to read by reading books that they understand and enjoy. F and 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 (and I see that a lot in classrooms--children who spend inordinate amounts of time stuck at "their level").  

                  By contrast, Common Core sets text levels on the basis of where we have to get students to by the time they end school. Consequently, they set higher levels for each grade (grades 2-12) than we did in the past, and it discourages the kind of out-of-level teaching that is so characteristic of guided reading plans. The reason for this is that many kids now leave high school reading below the levels needed in college, in the workplace, and in the military. This means that most state educational standards require that teachers teach kids to read texts of particular levels of difficulty--rather than at the students' supposed levels.

                  These 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 (the push for close reading is a notable exception), it can require text levels based on learning goals and the very real need of students to reach particular levels before they graduate, rather than trimming text levels to fit pedagogical philosophy.  

                  I think most advocates of Common Core 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, for them, the idea of not demanding too much of kids in terms of text difficulty. For F and P how you learn is as important as what you learn.  

                  F and 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--to the 1940s. One would assume that there must be a lot of research evidence supporting guided reading, given how long it has been espoused. One would be wrong in the assumption. Studies don't actually support the idea of teaching kids with books at their levels; the leveling idea is one that was just made up, and then when it was finally tested, it was found to fall short of the goal. 

                  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). I was taught to read 60 years ago by what most teachers would call guided reading. It is widely used in American schools and has been for generations. But there is an issue of opportunity cost here; would students learn more if we did it differently; if we taught students with more challenging texts? Teachers, of course, can never gauge the success of the alternatives that were not tried.

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

                  At the end of the day, for guided reading advocates, the disagreement is philosophical rather than empirical—for them, it is about the desirability of a particular approach to teaching. They believe that it is better for kids to figure things out with minimal teacher support, so they necessarily must limit the degree of challenge that students face; too much book difficulty would only lead to failure and frustration in that kind of scheme. However, if, on the other hand, your desire is for kids to read well enough to function independently and successfully in society, then it will be necessary to teach kids to do things they can't already do. In that case, intentionally limiting text difficulty would reduce students' opportunity to learn--a no-no, of course, if greater learning is the goal.

                  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 received more preparation in how to place students in relatively easy books, than to teach them to read harder ones. The success of the Common Core (and public education) depends not just on the requirement for more challenging texts, buying new texts or relabeling what's in the book room is the easy part. Success will be accomplished only if teachers will have the resolve, patience, and foresight to provide the sufficient and appropriate scaffolding needed to allow the students to figure out the meaning of challenging texts without being told what they say.


See what others have to say about this topic.

Meghan Jun 22, 2017 03:40 PM


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.

Pamela Farrell Jun 22, 2017 03:40 PM


I just want to start by saying I love reading your blogs and find them very informative. I just finished reading "Common Core or Guided Reading" and had a question about where struggling readers fit into the common core approach.

I am a reading specialist in Virginia and always reflect on what is best for my students. There are times when I start working with a child and he/she is already 1 or more years behind what is expected for grade level. I can't imagine asking such a child to read a book where he/she would not know half of the words in the book. My thinking is the child would experience so many road blocks that he would shut down. The child would spend so much time on decoding and apply word attack strategies that little comprehension would occur. I was taught, of course, to use guided reading so I'm coming from that perspective. I have never used the common core approach but am interested in how struggling readers fit into the common core equation.

I'd appreciate any info you have!

Anonymous Jun 22, 2017 03:41 PM


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.

Timothy Shanahan Jun 22, 2017 03:41 PM



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.

Timothy Shanahan Jun 22, 2017 03:42 PM

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.

Timothy Shanahan Jun 22, 2017 03:43 PM


That is a good question and one that I will post on my blog and reply to there (I will do it anonymously since you didn’t choose to post it yourself).

The issue of kids who read behind level is a tough one for classroom teachers, and common core certainly complicates that.

When it comes to beginning readers, say children reading first-grade level and below, I’m with Fountas and Pinnell. When children are starting out, they need to figure out how the orthography (spelling) connects to the phonology. If you put kids in materials that are too hard, you are more likely to slow down the mastering of this set of skills than speed it up.

Second-grade reading levels and up the situation is different. Studies are showing that placing students in harder texts than we have traditionally done can actually be better for them, at least if the teacher provides appropriate support (just throwing anyone—including struggling readers—into hard text is not going to move them forward). So, it’s quite possible that even with struggling readers, moving the text levels up could be beneficial.

Second point: I am very sympathetic to your view on this because while what I have written above is correct, it is not without limitations (and it is probing those limitations that your question is really about). I routinely told teachers in the Chicago Schools not to worry about placing students exactly at their instructional level. Thus, if they were teaching fourth graders who were a couple of years behind, I was saying pull them along with the grade level materials. But what if the kids were 3 years back? Or 4? 5? You didn’t specify how far back your strugglers were, but the further back the bigger the issue.

I’ve thought hard and long about this. I remember reading a case study that Grace Fernald wrote about in the 1920s. She managed to teach a total non-reader from very hard material (8th grade and higher). Thus, I have no doubt that it is possible to teach students successfully with really challenging texts. BUT (and it is a big but—hence the capitals), how many years difference in reading level and text level can a teacher help students to successfully negotiate in a typical classroom with 20-30 kids or more? The bigger the difference between reading level and text level, the more teaching and encouragement that is going to be needed. I think teachers need to get used to providing more of that support –rather than trying to minimize it—but the greater the mismatch the harder it will be to accomplish. Yes, I think we have made matching kids to books a fetish (and it is a fetish with little research support), but we can’t expect teachers to provide an endless level of support and engagement. Right now the tendency is to under teach, but we could certainly tip the balance too far in the other direction, too. Thanks.


Diana Sharp Jun 22, 2017 03:43 PM


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."

Timothy Shanahan Jun 22, 2017 03:43 PM



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.

Pamela Farrell Jun 22, 2017 03:44 PM


Thanks for getting back to me and for the explanation. Last year I started working with three 2nd graders that were reading at an early kindergarten level. They were actually the students I had in mind when reading your post. We started using the Wilson program with these students and they ended the year on a mid-first grade level. Certainly not enough! I'll continue to read what you have to post about the common core as I do want the most progress possible for my students.....even if my school doesn't necessarily "accept" the common core philosophy. Thanks again.

Pamela Farrell Jun 22, 2017 03:44 PM


Quick correction....not an early was a late Kindergarten (F&P level b/c) and they ended on a F&P level e/f.

Tessa Trimm Jun 22, 2017 03:45 PM


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?

Timothy Shanahan Jun 22, 2017 03:45 PM


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 Jun 22, 2017 03:46 PM


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?

Timothy Shanahan Jun 22, 2017 03:46 PM

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 Jun 22, 2017 03:47 PM


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.

Heather Jun 22, 2017 03:47 PM


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?

Timothy Shanahan Jun 22, 2017 03:47 PM



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.

Kay Dunlap Jun 22, 2017 03:48 PM


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.

Timothy Shanahan Jun 22, 2017 03:48 PM


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.

Amy Boyden Jun 22, 2017 03:49 PM

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.

Timothy Shanahan Jun 22, 2017 03:50 PM


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 Jun 22, 2017 03:50 PM


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 Jun 22, 2017 03:51 PM

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 Jun 22, 2017 03:51 PM


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 Jun 22, 2017 03:52 PM


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.

Timothy Shanahan Jun 22, 2017 03:52 PM


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 Jun 22, 2017 03:53 PM


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.

Timothy Shanahan Jun 22, 2017 03:54 PM


I'll post an answer to Michael's comment as my blog entry of February 18. Thanks.

Anonymous Jun 22, 2017 03:54 PM


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!

Timothy Shanahan Jun 22, 2017 03:54 PM


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 Jun 22, 2017 03:55 PM


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.

Britney Jun 22, 2017 03:55 PM


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.

Timothy Shanahan Jun 22, 2017 03:56 PM


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 Jun 22, 2017 03:57 PM


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.

Timothy Shanahan Jun 22, 2017 03:58 PM


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 Jun 22, 2017 03:58 PM


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.

Timothy Shanahan Jun 22, 2017 03:59 PM


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 Jun 22, 2017 03:59 PM


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!

Timothy Shanahan Jun 22, 2017 04:00 PM


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 Jun 22, 2017 04:01 PM


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

Where is the research for leveled literacy?

Timothy Shanahan Jun 22, 2017 04:01 PM


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 Jun 22, 2017 04:01 PM


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.

Timothy Shanahan Jun 22, 2017 04:02 PM



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. Jun 22, 2017 04:02 PM


Thanks so much!

Lisa S. Jun 22, 2017 04:03 PM


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.

Timothy Shanahan Jun 22, 2017 04:03 PM


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 Jun 22, 2017 04:03 PM


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?

Timothy Shanahan Jun 22, 2017 04:04 PM


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 Jun 22, 2017 04:04 PM

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?

Anonymous Jun 22, 2017 04:06 PM


I'm some what confused by the article and the discussion. Guided reading is an approach where the teacher guides a group of children through reading text. This can be all the same text or multiple text on a common theme/topic. The guided reading is focussed on particular points of instructional strategy that have been targeted for the group. A strong, reflective and responsive teacher may adapt these strategies and/or follow up tasks depending on the progress of the group. Fountas and Pinnell created a levelling system and a continuum of learning that suggests particular focusses and strategies at particular points of reading. The Fountas and Pinnell approach uses guided reading but it does not define guided reading. It seems to me to be a huge misconception to think that guided reading cannot be used with more complex texts (e.g. in the US system those now being mandated by the USCCSS) (oh yes please remember that some other countries have a common core too :). Personally I don't believe in limiting children. I've seen huge success with children having an individual levelled book but having control over their choice of book for guided reading (or lit circle) Many kids can really surprise you in battling through their frustration level, and a competent teacher is able to scaffold for those who may have just snagged a bit too much. But the conversations that come from that, the children's understanding of their own level of reading and the choices they make after that are enormous. I think we owe it to them not to box them into much. Track levels by all means but let them soar.

Anonymous Jun 22, 2017 04:06 PM


Greetings: I find this website to be very informative. I do have a question regarding depth of knowledge. Presently, I teach first grade. Our school is now requiring teachers to create questions based on 3 and 4 depth of knowledge levels for the reading and math common core standards. How can this be accomplished? Another question that I have is that presently I teach a class wherein over 75% of the students are reading below grade level according to their F&P reading levels. Presently, I am focused on teaching phonological awareness, phonics and fluency. I am finding it difficult to teach the literature and informational standards. How can I differentiate so that the the 4 students who are on and above grade level are not left behind? I am having a hard time trying to manage kids with academic and behavioral difficulties in small groups. Please help!

Timothy Shanahan Jun 22, 2017 04:08 PM



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 Jun 22, 2017 04:08 PM


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 Jun 22, 2017 04:09 PM


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

Anonymous Jun 22, 2017 04:09 PM


Thank you for all of your articles. I teach remedial reading at a community college and I will also be teaching 5th grade reading for the first time this year. I definitely agree with the idea of giving students more challenging texts to read and then teaching them the skills that they need to decode these texts. This is my approach when teaching developmental reading to college students. When they take a class in history, psychology, or chemistry, they are not going to be given a textbook that is matched to their reading level. They will have to use reading comprehension skills to help them make sense of the text that they are given. If we can teach these skills to students in elementary school, then students have a better chance at success in high school and college and will not need to take remedial courses. I will definitely use your approach to teaching close reading when I begin this school year.

Kathleen L. Miller Jul 05, 2017 08:21 PM

Personally, I think that after first grade, our students should be independent readers and that their personal self-extending reading system improves the more that they read. This was documented by Dr. Marie M. Clay herself in her book, Becoming Literate. Teachers need to reaffirm to students their strengths as a reader and their grit in reading a text closely to create meaning. Our goal is to create independent self-regulated literate learners.

MK Mar 02, 2018 04:50 PM

I have a question about comparing the core knowledge reading levels to F&P levels-
For example a level 4 in CK for reading level compares to what alphabet in F&P system?

MK Mar 02, 2018 04:50 PM

I have a question about comparing the core knowledge reading levels to F&P levels-
For example a level 4 in CK for reading level compares to what alphabet in F&P system?

Shawna M Schiralli Sep 26, 2018 05:12 PM

90% accuracy is not a high degree of accuracy. There is plenty of room for problem solving (decoding), while maintaining the meaning of the text. Look at Fountas and Pinnell's Continuum of Learning. Teachers are teaching and scaffolding at each level not just decoding, but all the complex processes of reading. Teachers teach, prompt, reinforce, and gradually remove supports as students become independent at each level. Guided Reading is only a portion of the reading block during which students read high-quality, complex, rigorous texts. Whole group teaching should be grade level texts for all, of course.

Additionally, what about a student who is reading far beyond grade level? Guided Reading meets their needs at their instructional level, as well. It is a perfect differentiation model to ensure all students are growing as readers.

What Are your thoughts?

Leave me a comment and I would like to have a discussion with you!

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