by Andi Pace

The majority of students at Holman Elementary, in the Ferguson-Florissant School District, are reading below grade level according to district assessments; 62% of students are not reading at grade level as determined by the Teacher’s College Benchmark Running Record assessment. According to the STAR assessment, 67% of students are not reading at their current grade level.  Holman Elementary consists of ten classrooms, grades K-5. Enrollment is approximately 200 students. Class sizes range from sixteen to twenty-seven students.

Conferring was an area of focus designated by the building’s Instructional Leadership Team. It was introduced in August through scholarly readings, modeling and professional development. During conferring, a teacher meets with one student to research the student’s reading behaviors. The teacher will compliment the student and suggest strategies for further improvement. Demonstration of a reading strategy and practice may also occur. Typically, a teacher meets with one-two students per day. This means the teacher has a meeting with each student once a month in a typical class. While this contact is valuable, it must occur more often in order for struggling readers to gain the skills and strategies they need to succeed.

Guided reading, a best instructional practice according to the National Reading Panel, felt like the next logical layer for balanced literacy. My goal was to assist teachers to extend their classroom practice to include guided reading groups.  My implementation began in late September with two focus classrooms. We read and discussed scholarly articles, and watched and critiqued sample videos. Using a gradual release of responsibility model, I demonstrated how to analyze teachers’ real data to form groups, choose appropriate text, and plan strategies for teaching. During my demonstrations, teachers took notes and then discussed the lessons with me. The practice evolved into team planning and eventually the teacher being observed and coached by me. The work by Fountas and Pinnell served as our guide and most valuable resource. Summarizing was a necessary skill needed in each group, so the strategy of “Somewhere somebody wanted but so then…” was taught and evaluated.

According to Fountas and Pinnell (2001), the goals of guided reading are the following:

  • to meet students’ varying instructional needs,
  • to teach students to read increasingly difficult texts with understanding and fluency, and
  • to construct meaning while using problem solving strategies.

During guided reading, a teacher works with a small group of students to improve fluency and comprehension. Guided reading occurs daily with groups meeting two to five times per week. Students are grouped based on need, ability, and similar learning targets. Groups are fluid, members transitioning in and out as needed based on data. A text is chosen by the teacher that will provide challenge and also allow students to read with support scaffolding. The teacher plans word work or vocabulary practice to accompany the text as well as a comprehension task or discussion upon completion of reading. Students read silently while the teacher listens to each child read. While the child is reading, the teacher notes strengths and areas where growth is needed. Teaching occurs on the spot and is responsive to each child’s needs. Teachers provide prompts and/or models a strategy for the child to utilize. Research indicates this prompting is crucial to guide students toward self-monitoring. (Iaquinta, 2006)

So far, the results include changes that bear scrutiny.  Teacher College benchmark (TCB) scores, STAR scores, and summarizing rubrics were assessed to see growth as a result of guided reading instruction. Each class showed growth. In Class A, 82% of children moved a TCB level. The percentage of students reading below level according to the STAR remained the same, while the grade level expectation rose. In Class B, 94% of students moved a TCB level. The percent of students reading below grade level decreased from 68% to 50%.  And 80% of the children in the guided reading groups successfully completed the summarizing rubric. Classroom B, the classroom in which I was able to devote the most time to and in which the teacher also facilitated groups, gained the most growth. The teacher in classroom A began a guided group in late November after data was analyzed. I am continuing to support this teacher, and will also begin a cycle with two new classrooms in early December. I am dedicating three days per week to each class and will spend eight weeks in each classroom. Holman Elementary will implement guided reading groups schoolwide beginning in late January 2017.

It is difficult to state which had the most impact, conferring or guided reading. Both involve personalized teaching and time devoted to individual students’ needs. Each of these practices seem to contribute to student growth. The data suggests that the more often a best practice is utilized, the more growth occurs.  The more comfortable teachers become with planning for and providing explicit prompts and strategies in guided groups, the more students will continue to grow. I will continue to monitor the progress of the classes in this study.

As an ISL, I found the implementation to be a bit challenging because I do not have my own class, and was often out of my building for trainings and meetings. I had to get teachers on board with a new practice while also implementing the new building focus of conferring along with teachers familiarizing themselves with new teaching materials and testing this year. Time was a challenge. I saw a greater impact in the classroom which I was able to support three days per week for eight weeks. The classroom teacher also conducted guided reading groups herself after modeling and planning with me. In the other class, I was able to conduct groups once a week for one month. Each teacher saw the value in guided reading and began her own implementation after the initial training I provided.

Andi Pace, ISL, Holman Elementary School

Andi has a B.S. in elementary education and an M. Ed in curriculum and instruction.  An elementary classroom teacher for 16 years with 15 of those years being in the Ferguson-Florissant District, Andi has taught grades first through fourth, serving as the Communication Arts teacher for her departmentalized grade level for the past five years. This year, she entered a new role as an Instructional Support Leader, relocating to Holman in August 2016.