Last week I posted about the inconvenience of having to stop my guided reading groups...again...in order to test my kids...again. Today I'm changing my tune. I am so glad I took the time to test my students!

Last Tuesday and Wednesday I used the Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) to test my students. The object of the test is to determine their reading levels based on their words per minute, accuracy, oral fluency, and comprehension on leveled texts read aloud to the teacher by the student. In this case, we were trying to determine their growth over the course of the year.

Let me just say that my kids ROCKED it! I was so proud of them and every single child increased their reading level by at least one guided reading level. I even had children ask me if I would test them again because they weren't pleased with their scores! Amazing!

I've included my scores for both of the classes that I teach. I have not included these scores to boast or brag about my teaching skills, but rather as proof that guided reading DOES WORK!  I know that my results would not have been nearly as great had I not implemented this style of teaching in my classroom this year. Please note that I have changed my students' original names to student 1, student 2, student 3, etc. to protect their privacy.
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Just when you think you can get back to your normal routine...
...you realize that you have to do DRA testing the next day. Grrrr...

While I'm upset about this turn of events, I realize that it's been on my calendar for a while and it's the test that I'm most anxious to see the results for. This is the guided reading test that shows how much my students have truly progressed in their reading skills, and the test that I feel is most reflective of what I've been teaching them in reading class. As a Texas teacher, I know that I should be most focused on the STAAR test. We did our fair share of preparation for that...a LOT of preparation. But I don't feel that it will be an accurate reflection of how far my students have really progressed this year. The DRA test will be since it is geared toward finding a child's guided reading level.

Today one of our interventionists pulled a few of students to begin testing them. Of the students that she pulled, not one had progressed fewer than FIVE levels. In fact, the student that I was most worried about at mid year (she had not progressed at all from the beginning of the year to mid year) jumped SEVEN levels. I was absolutely blown away! Now I can't wait to see how the rest of my kiddos do. Results to come later this week...
 
 
For the majority of the week last week, I was in Houston attending the Texas Library Association conference. It was a great conference and I really learned a lot...and got Judy Blume's signature in my favorite Judy Blume book, Tales of  Fourth Grade Nothing. I was quite excited about this!

Getting a signature by such an amazing children's author made me think about my love for reading. I love, love, love to read! I grew up in a home filled with books, newspapers, and magazines. We made numerous trips to the library. I was blessed with the natural ability to read. I don't remember learning how to read, and I don't remember a time when I couldn't read. But I know that not all children are quite so lucky. They struggle with reading and, therefore, hate to read. This breaks my heart.

As an upper elementary teacher, I've never really been in charge of teaching children to read. They've always come to me already reading. While most of the students in my room can read, they come with varying levels of reading skills. Most can read, but many still struggle with reading. I've found that guided reading is the perfect solution for meeting children where they are and improving their current reading skills.

This year has been a very gratifying experience for me, especially with the implementation of guided reading in my classroom. I've learned how to differentiate considerably with regard to reading skills and truly meet my students where they are. In turn, they have improved their reading skills and have learned to love to read. I've never heard students say, "This is fun," or "Can we read another book?" before. The students truly enjoy reading and the support they receive in their small guided reading groups.

With that being said, my students will be taking the STAAR test on Tuesday and Wednesday. I'm sure they will do great...they've worked soooo hard this semester. Regardless of how they do on this test, it's really not the test that I believe is a true measure of how hard they have worked and how much they have improved in their reading skills. The test that really matters to me is the end of year DRA test that we will administer in the next few weeks. This test is a more authentic measure of a student's reading abilities. I believe that it is the test that will truly show just how hard my students have worked and how much improvement they have made since the beginning of the school year. Now if I can just remember this when test scores come out next year.
 
 
This past week went really well. We continued to work on reading dramas during our guided reading time and I think the kids enjoyed it as well. They really got into choosing which characters they would read and even asked to be more than one character! Again, just more proof that the kids enjoy guided reading.

One reason that I think my kids enjoy guided reading is the level of support that they feel when they come to the guided reading table. Each group is divided by level. I only pull books according to that group's instructional level. Therefore, they aren't having to read materials that are too hard, or too easy. They read "just right" books. In addition, there is no judgement between the student as they read. Since they are grouped according to level, the students in each group reads about the same. Therefore, no one is embarrasesed by their inability to read. The students also support and encourage one another. For example, I have one student who is considerably lower than all of the rest of my students. He doesn't really belong with the group that I placed him in, but I placed him in the lowest level group that I have in that class. There are three girls in this group with this little boy. Those three girls are so supportive of him. Each time that he reads they tell him what a great job he did or comment on something specific that impressed them about his reading. This is just one of the reasons why I love guided reading so much.

Another thing that I've been thinking about quite often is the integration of technology into guided reading. I have some ideas to share with you and will be creating a page specifically to give teachers ideas for using technology during guided reading. However, you should be aware that most of the ideas that I will share are things that students can use while I am working with guided reading groups. There isn't much that can be done with regard to technology when listening to students read.

Today I tried to video some guided reading groups, as well as students who were working independently on their daily five activities. I must say that I'm not quite sure yet how the videos will turn out. I didn't realize just how noisy my students were during this time until you really need them to be quiet. :-)  They really aren't that loud during class...it's really a manageable noise level. I think it just seemed amplified because I was trying to video tape the lessons and wanted you to be able to hear what was being said. I haven't looked at the footage yet, but know that some editing will need to be done before posting it here for you to view.
 
 
Ahhhhh....that's my sigh of relief today after having spent most of last week being out of my classroom in order to STAAR test individual students. I don't mind doing it. It's what our campus does in order to help our kids succeed. However, it also means that I can't do guided reading for a week because I can't leave guided reading with a substitute. It's just too complicated to try to explain in a sub note.

There are only 3 more weeks until my sweet 3rd graders take their STAAR tests, and I'm a little nervous. I know that there are several things that I need to do in order to prepare them, but don't want to give up my guided reading time. Two things that I feel we need continued work on are poetry and drama. I just don't feel like I've done a very good job teaching these two things. I also have several skills such as main idea, summary, and cause and effect that need to be reviewed.

In order to accomplish reviewing these things without giving up guided reading time, I've gotten a little creative. To review poetry, I'll be doing a short mini-lesson (about 10 minutes) over a poem each day. The poems are about 10 lines each so we can really analyze it easily in the short amount of time. On the first day, we read the poem, number the lines, and identify the rhyming scheme (if there is one). On the second day, we will identify the type of poem, and the author's message. With this schedule, I will be able to discuss 2 poems per week.

During guided reading time, my students and I are reading plays. I wasn't sure if I would like doing it this way, but thought I'd give it a try. I had to review it sometime, and this allows me to do guided reading and still discuss drama. Teaching drama during guided reading actually worked quite well. The small groups enabled me to assign EVERY child a character to play. Had I tuaght this as a whole group, I would have had 14 students without a part to read. I also didn't have to write 10 sets of lesson plans as I normally do when I teach a different book to each guided reading group. That was definitely a nice change and huge time saver! In addition, I was pleasantly surprised with the sudden use of expression my many of my students. It was as if they knew that everything they said was part of a conversation and people don't usually talk in a monotone voice, or maybe it my telling them so during my introduction. Either way, they did a really nice job with expression. I think that in the future, I'll definitely incorporate dramas into my guided reading groups more often.

I still have specific skills that I'd like to review such as main idea, summary, and cause and effect, but I can review these skills during my main reading lesson time with each group.

Overall, I'm really pleased with our use of time this week. I think we (my grade level reading partner and I) implemented a great plan that will allow us to really focus on concepts and skills that our students still need work on in the amount of time that we have left before the BIG STAAR test, and still allow us to do guided reading each day. As you can tell, I LOVE guided reading and don't like weeks when I'm not able to teach using this method.
 
 
This past week, was both eye-opening and frustrating. On Wednesday, we had a teacher from another school district come to our campus to show us how to conduct guided reading groups. This teacher has trained personally with Jan Richardson, who wrote the book The Next Step in Guided Reading, so I would consider her an expert on the subject.

My frustration came when I tried to video the session. I really wanted to have the session on video in order to place on this site, but also so that I could go back and view as I needed to. Unfortunately, she talked extremely quietly so the video is unusable. I was also a bit frustrated because I don't feel that I was able to get everything out of the training that the other teachers did. The training was held in my classroom and used my students. Therefore, I was trying to manage the children in addition to trying to watch and learn. Not only did I have to make sure the children were entertained, but I also had to leave at one point to take the children to the bus. 

Despite all of this, I felt that the training was beneficial. There were a few things that the trainer did with one of the groups of students that I had been wanting to see. I have always taught in the upper grades where the children could already read, so I was interested to see some of the methods used for children who are still learning to read. For example, we were shown how to use "sound boxes" and the analogy chart. When you use sound boxes, you simply give the children a word and they write each letter in a box. Simple enough.
 
I really liked the analogy chart though,  and think that it will be great for many of my children, not just my struggling readers. The analogy chart is just a t-chart graphic organizer. At the top of each column you write a word with a certain sound or spelling pattern. Then you give the students a word. They must choose which column the word belongs in based on which sound or spelling pattern the word is most like. For example, you may have the words "oil" and "snow" at the top of your two columns. Then the teacher may give the students the word "moist." "Moist" would go in the "oil" column because it follows the "oi" spelling pattern.

Even though I wasn't able to video the training, I was really pleased with what I got out of the training. I think that I learned a few new good strategies that I can employ with my students
 
 
Last week was spring break, and, as you can see, I spent a lot of time adding new things to this site. Unfortunately, there is still a lot to go...and I keep thinking of other things I need to add!

I'm also excited about our guided reading training on Wednesday. This will be the make up training for the one we missed almost a month ago due to snow. I'm excited to learn new strategies to use in my guided reading groups. I really want to understand the guided reading process, and hope to refine my skills with the new knowledge I gain in the training on Wednesday. I'm also excited to see an "expert" at work!

I also hope that I'll be able to video the training on Wednesday. I hope that I'll receive permission to place the video on this site so that all of you can also benefit from training.
 
 
In my last post, I mentioned my plan to spend some time concentrating on vocabulary prior to reading the book during my small group times. Here’s what I learned.

First, I normally do 10 vocabulary words per book. This is primarily because most of the books have 10 vocabulary words already in place for teachers to work on. I only have about 15-20 minutes per group, and it took most of the students at least half of that time to get the words copied onto their cards. Then we spent time discussing each word and writing the definitions on the back of the index cards for each word. I believe that only one of the groups actually finished in the time allotted.  For some groups, we meet every day or 4 days per week. For the rest of my groups, we only meet twice per week. If we continued writing vocabulary words on the second day, then all of my group time for a full week for some groups was spent just writing the definitions for vocabulary words. I’m not quite sure that this is the best use of my group time.

I do feel that vocabulary development is especially important for my students. About 75% of the students on my campus fall in the low SES range, so they come to school lacking the home experiences that help to develop good vocabularies. However, I’m not so sure that I need to spend all of my group time for an entire week working on writing the definitions. One solution is to cut the number of vocabulary words that we do each week by half. Another solution is to continue to simply discuss the vocabulary words prior to reading the book as I was doing before. I’m not really sure what the best option is at this point, but know that I need to include it somehow.

I also continue to struggle with the idea of guided writing and how much time should be spent on this activity. During one week earlier in the semester, I spent a considerable amount of time writing summaries with the students. I recently had to have the students complete a writing sample, and was very impressed the samples that I received. They were considerably better than the samples that I had received during the first semester, so I am quite positive that had we not written these summaries together the quality would not have been as good on these samples.

It seems as if the main issue I am having with the guided reading process at this point is the issue of time. I really wish I had 30-45 minutes to spend with each group on a daily basis, but this is not the reality. In the meantime, I will keep working with groups and refining my strategies until I find just the right formula for my students and me.

 
 
This past week left me craving to work with my kids in their small groups. I'm often pulled to work with other grade levels when they take benchmark tests (which is a compliment), but that leaves a substitute in my classroom. Since guided reading is a rather difficult and complicated process I usually leave substitutes with lessons and activities that can be taught to the whole class. So, I'm really looking forward to working with my small groups again this week.

Today we had a staff development day. We did a few different sessions of training today, but one in particular left me with a new idea for helping my students with their vocabulary. One of the skills in guided reading is word work. Word work involves going over sight words and working with those words. Since I teach 3rd grade, most of my students are beyond this stage and ready to just read. Instead of working on sight words, we work on vocabulary words for the story that they will be reading. The focus of the session today was an interactive word wall. So rather than putting all of the words on the wall, write them on index cards so that the students can use them and refer to them on their own. Since each group would have a different set of words, this would work perfectly. Then we will be able to pull them out and review them in vocabulary games in other small group sessions.

Even though I know this will take a lot of my group time, I'm confident that this will be a good use of time for my students. Vocabulary is a huge issue for my students and I've been struggling with a way to incorporate it into our reading lessons since each group has a different set of words based on their text. I'm really excited to see how this new emphasis on vocabulary will affect my students in the upcoming weeks.
 
 
This past week I decided to experiment a little with my guided reading groups. As I stated last week, I'm not very sure exactly how much writing should be accompanied with the guided reading of each group. I strongly believe that writing is an integral part of the literacy process. So, my students did a LOT of writing this week.

What really surprised me about the writing was that the students kept asking me when they were going to read a new book. I have never had a group of kids WANT to read and that really excited me. As exciting as this was, I was also really concerned about my students' attitudes toward writing. After all, I was guiding them in the writing process...they weren't having to write on their own.

Another disappointment this week was the cancellation of guided reading training that I was to participate in this afternoon. Unfortunately, our area recieved a lot of snow yesterday which created icy roads this morning and so, school was cancelled. I know that the training will be rescheduled but now that I'm really starting to get into guided reading, I'm really sad that it was cancelled today.
 

    Meet Marti

    Marti is 3rd grade ELA, Reading, and Social Studies teacher at Willow Bend Elementary. She has been in education for the past 15 years. In addition to teaching 3rd grade, Marti has also taught 4th grade and has been the instructional technology specialist at her campus. This is her first year to use the guided reading method in her classroom.

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