Guiding Trainers in Guided Reading
By Robert Schroeder
Should teachers have leeway to experiment?
It's a double-edged sword: teacher experimentation today may sacrifice a degree of student advancement. Without risk-taking, however, teachers cannot refine new techniques that promote advancement tomorrow.
A new responsive guided reading model designed by National Louis University's Drs. Jennifer Berne and Sophie Degener relies on opening school culture in today's classrooms. They created a three-year professional development plan that introduces a streamlined guided reading model.
"You have to give teachers space to make mistakes," said Berne, an associate professor in the National College of Education. "If I don't spend a year getting better at it, I'm never going to get better at it."
Guided reading, a process of grouping students at similar reading levels together for short bursts of instruction, is a relatively new model of practice. When Berne and Degener initially started training Chicago-area teachers heading into struggling schools, the trainees reported back that they couldn't control a full class for the traditional 20-30 minute program.
In 2010, Berne and Degener received a grant from the International Writing Association to train new trainers with their new responsive guided reading model. Rather than going from school-to-school themselves, the professors began training doctoral students at National Louis University to become trainers embedded in the Chicago Public School system.
The new model is only 12 minutes in duration and features students reading individually to teachers, an aspect not in the original model. Teachers learn how to listen to students reading and how to cue students when they err. Teachers spend the first year implementing the program and experimenting with which techniques are most successful. The second year is spent applying these skills and further adjusting technique. By the third year, teachers gain a deep understanding of how to best apply the new guided reading model.
The goal is to create a model that is less cumbersome for teachers to implement. Berne said that while most teachers say they are doing guided reading, many use it infrequently or apply it to only subsections of their classrooms.
"Some of the practices we expect teachers to be able to pick up, the teachers have to learn the structures before they can more around in the structures," Berne said.
The new program has been implemented in Chicago Public Schools as well as urban-type schools in Chicago's suburbs, namely Elgin and Waukegan. Trainee teachers are using guided reading in most elementary and middle school levels, as well as bilingual classrooms. The resource issues plaguing urban schools affect guided reading in a number of ways: large class sizes create difficulty grouping students, and a lack of reading materials hamper developing frequency.
Whatever the setting, earning buy-in from school administrators for a program that may not produce results for several years can be tricky. Berne requires principals to attend training with teachers and works to include the entire staff body—teachers, principals, special education teachers, and English language specialists.
Berne and Degener plan to share their initial results at the International Reading Association annual convention May 8-11 in Orlando. Using feedback from the convention, Berne and Degener hope to create training materials to use at conferences to train educators outside of the Chicago area. The two have published one book, "Responsive Guided Reading in Grades K-5," and are working on a middle school edition. The publicity is a channel for crucial feedback that keeps the developing model on the forefront.
"The structure is very simple, but inside the structure, to do it well is complicated, and that's what we've learned from these doctoral students," Berne said. "We sometimes say you have to learn how to do it before you learn how to do it well…in a way that's been the biggest impact."