A Quick TipMy first recommendation when it comes to this topic is to grab The Six Shifts by Jan Burkins and Kari Yates. It is a wonderful quick read that shares ways to have a balanced literacy approach in the classroom with the Science of Reading. I’ve heard A LOT of things about guided reading and reading groups since so many teachers, myself included, are educating themselves on the Science of Reading research and benefits. I’ve heard we need to have mostly whole group instruction and that time is wasted during centers, but I beg to differ. Of course we’ll cover that later. I’ve also heard from teachers frustrated with how to structure their reading groups because of how it looks different with decodables instead of grouping students by level. I believe that what’s most important is that we take the research and our best practices to do what’s best for our students. So, if you believe like me that your reading groups and centers are still what’s best, let’s talk about how to get it all structured.
Guided Reading VS. Small Group InstructionGuided reading seems to be getting a BAD rep…. But I must say, I think it’s for good reason. There seems to be significant research showing that the approach has been creating unintentional gaps, as well providing a lack of support for students. There is also a disconnect of understanding between guided reading and small group instruction. Check out this table of differences between the two. Now that we know the differences, let’s talk about the impacts. Some believe that the whole group instruction is more effective and will render more academic gains. However, the time spent conducting whole group instruction with students should depend on their age. Did you know 5-6 year olds should receive no more than 10 minutes of it? There is significant research that finds the longer the students are on the carpet, the less they are learning. So how do we support students? I’ll tell you – small group reading instruction. When it comes to reading, students need that one-on-one support with letter sounds, CVC words, or other phonics skills they’re learning. While you have your small groups, students CAN complete centers independently and THRIVE. This can ALL be aligned with the Science of Reading and be impactful. Management is key and you can learn all about centers management HERE! Once you’ve decided to go forth with small group instruction, you must make a plan. So how do we begin?
Where Do We Start?In the past, we have used a number of beginning of the year assessments to help group our students into reading groups. Maybe you used DRA, TRC, DIBELS, etc. There are so many different ones out there. Those assessments helped us determine what reading level our students were at and how to help guide instruction for them. With the Science of reading, we are STILL going to use an assessment to guide instruction for students! However, instead of determining their reading level, we are going to determine what word attack skills they have, what understanding of letters/sounds they have, and general phonemic/phonological awareness. A great universal screener that can be used is the Phonological Awareness Screening Test (PAST). Another great one is the Core Phonics Survey. The Core Phonics Survey is a diagnostic assessment to help determine specific student needs. This assessment can help form initial student groups by skill. I highly recommend beginning here. Remember, assessment drives instruction so this part is KEY. Once you’ve got your data, it’s time to group students!
Grouping StudentsWhile most of us may be used to simply assessing and using their reading level as a basis for grouping, the science of reading instead tells us to look at students’ shared skill deficits. Since the Science of Reading focuses heavily on skills, it only makes sense to use this as the basis for creating your student’s groups. Of course, your groups will change based on constant monitoring and assessing of your students, but when you change groups you know that you are placing your students exactly where they need to be. Another note here is to be discreet and creative with how you groups. Often times students will take notice of what group they’re in and if it’s not where they might want to be, it could impact their self esteem or open them up for negative comments about their skill level. While you might not have these issues at all, it still is something to be mindful of. So once we’ve got our groups, it’s time to teach!
Small Group InstructionYou’ve got all these students and all this data, but what do we do with them? Well we want to provide students with targeted instruction and support. So what does that look like? Here’s a typical scope and sequence of skills:
Letters (Recognition, Sounds and Formation)
CVC Words/Short Vowels
DipthongsWith these skills to focus on, here’s a typical lesson plan and some activities we complete. As far as how your groups will move through this time, there are a variety of different grouping rotations. You can do timed rotations, open rotations, or pull groups as needed. There’s no one right way, you just have to do what works for you and your students. You might even have a few different ways you complete your group rotations. Maybe 3 days a week you have timed rotations and 2 days a week you have choice boards. Maybe you conduct open centers so you can pull and work with students as needed. Whatever works for you and your students will always be what’s best. Learn more about different options HERE. The one thing I want to make clear here is that it is equally important to work with your high achieving students as much as your students who need more support. Don’t neglect the students doing well just because they are performing above grade level. Every single student in your room deserves the same time and support. You want to make sure everyone is getting the attention they deserve and are pushed to their full potential. Which bring us to our next point- flexible grouping!
Flexible GroupingAnother important piece of small group instruction is having flexible groups. Raise your hand if you’re guilty of keeping students grouped by level and only switching students if they graduated their level… I know I’m guilty! Well, instead of grouping students and only moving when they “graduate” from a level, students will move through different groups depending on their specific needs. It also means that maybe you have to create a whole new group because a need has resurfaced. Similarly, if a member of your group is ready to move on after a few lessons, move them! Your groups should be fluid so that you are ensuring everyone is progressing at their own pace. We want to support students so that as they grow, they have NO DEFICITS. This is the beauty of small group instruction. Whole group instruction does not allow for that much differentiation and that’s just a fact. AND let’s be honest, if you have a group of 25 students, how many of them have the same exact needs and deficits? I hope you enjoyed learning all about utilizing centers with the Science of Reading ! Don’t forget to subscribe to my email list! Not only will you get the most up to date tips, tricks, and classroom projects… and of course more fun FREEBIES including the Mastering Classroom Centers For Good: Turning Chaos into Calm Guide FREEBIE! You will also have exclusive access to tons of digital how-to videos! If you would like to learn about this and other things happening in my classroom follow me @sweetnsauerfirsties on Instagram.
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