By Jeanna Baxter White
It’s 7:45 a.m. on Monday, November 12th, and hundreds of Davie County Schools’ teachers and administrators are filing into Davie County High School for Davie Experience 6, a full day of workshops and collaborative sessions designed to provide professional development for all certified staff in the district.
A key workshop for elementary teachers focuses on guided reading, an instructional approach in which a teacher works with a small group of students who demonstrate similar reading behaviors and can all read similar levels of texts. The text is on the student’s instructional level and is easy enough to read with some fluency, but also offers challenges and opportunities for problem-solving.
Guided reading is a component of a balanced literacy framework for reading instruction, which also includes reading to students, having students read independently, and reading with students. The balanced literacy approach, as adopted by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction strikes a balance between phonics and comprehension and is a way to teach all elements of English language arts instruction. It is designed to meet the needs of all readers and to inspire an authentic love and appreciation for reading among students. The other components of this framework are read aloud, shared reading, independent reading, word study, and writing.
This year, guided reading is the professional development focus of the DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed) initiative, which was created through a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation to support a five-year early literacy initiative aimed at improving kindergarten readiness and increasing the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade.
The grant includes funding for professional development and specialized support staff, including two full-time literacy coaches, as well as two professional consultants to develop and build the professional capacity of the kindergarten through third-grade classroom teachers in Davie County Schools. The grant also provides funding for all elementary schools to develop a guided reading room filled with sets of leveled readers that will continue to be expanded throughout the initiative.
DavieLEADS Consultant Barbie Brown and Literacy Coach Amy Spade facilitated the guided reading workshop for teachers who have students in the Pre-A, Emergent, and Early lesson plans while Consultant Nancy Scoggin and Literacy Coach Renee Hennings-Gonzalez conducted a training session for teachers with students in the Early, Transitional, and Fluent lesson plans.
“Before the workshop, we emailed teachers a survey asking for feedback about what they had learned, training they still needed, what was going well, questions they had, and challenges they were experiencing so that we could really tailor the training to their needs,” said Spade.
During the workshop, facilitators addressed those concerns and also passed out a sample template and a guided reading plan to help with lesson preparation. They then presented a step-by-step demonstration for planning and implementing a lesson that focuses on the state-mandated standards and meets individual student needs.
“Guided reading is about what the child needs and filling in the holes for each individual reader,” Brown told attendees as she introduced the guided reading lesson plan template. “It’s about practicing word level strategies and comprehension strategies at the child’s instructional level. The whole purpose of guided reading is growing students who read, comprehend and develop a love for reading. Research shows that guided reading is an effective way to get them there.”
To further enhance their understanding of the concept, teachers who attended the session for Early, Transitional, and Fluent lesson planning had the opportunity to sort profiles of typical readers to determine the level of assistance students needed.
“That really spoke to teachers because they had to think through ‘if I had this student sitting in my classroom, what would I do for them and how would I meet their needs?’ said Hennings-Gonzalez. “They walked away feeling better about how to serve the students in their own classrooms, and that felt really good to me personally.”
“Often, as teachers, we think that if we give students a book and they are making mistakes it’s too hard, and that’s not true,” said Scoggin. “Students will make mistakes even on their instructional level, and those mistakes actually inform teachers what each child needs in order to progress as a reader. We are working with the teachers during guided reading lessons to help them determine strategies children need, based on their individual reading struggles.”
Last year, elementary school teachers across Davie County spent 30-45 minutes of their daily teaching time on teacher-directed reading (TDR). During TDR, a teacher guides students through standards-based, grade-level language arts instruction.
This year, guided reading is taking language arts instruction to the next level by focusing on each student’s individual instructional needs. During small group reading, students quietly read out loud while the teacher walks from child to child listening to them read and evaluating their strengths and weaknesses in order to address any skill gaps.
“This progress monitoring will help teachers know when to move a student up in reading levels and whether their instructional practices are making a difference,” Hennings-Gonzalez said.
“Guided reading is considered best practice among small group reading structures. However, it’s new to a lot of teachers, and therefore sometimes intimidating,” said Kris Shepherd, a 5th-grade teacher at Mocksville Elementary. “Barbie, Nancy, Amy, and Renee have been instrumental in working alongside teachers to implement this new structure. This training was evidence of that.”
“As educators, our ultimate goal is to get our students to demonstrate grade-level proficiency,” said Madison Wyatt, a third-grade teacher at Mocksville Elementary School. “In order to do this, we must provide differentiated instruction to meet individual needs. Through the Mebane initiative, teachers in Davie County are being trained in a researched-based, guided reading framework that focuses on intentional and intensive small-group reading instruction. Through this progressive model, students are able to grow and advance in their reading proficiency, and I am excited to see the value of this program in my own classroom.”
“I love the new guided reading program,” said Sandy Hendrix, a first-grade teacher at Pinebrook Elementary, “It is very structured and intentional. We work with children on their reading needs. The lessons focus on a variety of important reading skills every day. The skills include reading strategies, comprehension, sight word recognition and spelling, word work, as well as a writing component. The children love guided reading time, and I am seeing growing confidence in their abilities. We have received excellent training. This is the most confident that I have ever felt teaching small group guided reading.”
According to Spade, as an added benefit, the guided reading plans will help teachers have “vertical conversations” between grade levels about where students are in a plan and the strategies that have been used so that subsequent teachers can continue to build upon those successes. “There will be a common language within the plan about the skills children are working on and where they are.”
In addition to the workshop, the consultants and literacy coaches will be providing one-on-one coaching through co-teaching support and confidential instructive observations in each teacher’s classroom.
Hennings-Gonzalez said, “We realize that this process isn’t going to be perfect overnight. It is important to recognize teachers’ effort and to support their needs, but we also want to make sure that we are all learning from our mistakes.”
“We are using a co-teaching model to support teachers, and we want teachers to look at their lesson plan and be able to say, ‘You know what, I don’t really understand this part of the plan. Can you jump in and help me with this part?’ That’s our goal–to help teachers understand, as well as being reflective practitioners so that they can tailor their instruction to support their students’ needs.”
“Once teachers begin to see the growth in their kids, they will understand the ‘whys’ of guided reading,” Brown added. “And once they get it, guided reading often becomes their favorite part of the day.”