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Literacy Tip of the Week: April 26, 2020

posted Apr 26, 2020, 7:23 PM by Steven Richardson
Guided Reading at the Canadian International School in Singapore

My name is Emilija. I am the literacy coordinator at the Canadian International School in Singapore. Just like many other schools in Asia and worldwide, the student population is changing with more English language learners joining the school. The school practices an inquiry approach to teaching. As a result, explicit instruction in reading and writing is rare. From research in the field of bilingual and multilingual learners, we know students need to engage in leveled reading for an extended period of time. The International Literacy Association emphasizes that all students have the right to individualized reading instruction and engagement in literacy-rich activities.

The Guided Reading Journey

I have had previous training with Jan Richardson in guided reading in my previous school in China, and I already knew that the framework for providing targeted reading support works especially well in a bilingual context and with English language learners. Once I joined the school, I started training all the teachers in assessing students’ reading levels accurately, as well as identifying their strengths and areas in need of growth. Once we had all the reading data in, I used the data to create a sense of urgency for the need to change our literacy practices. This moment was crucial, as I wanted teachers to see what we were doing was not working for the majority of the students. However, creating a sense of urgency in itself is insufficient without giving teachers agency. Not only did I present the reality of our current situation, but I also gave teachers a way forward by showing them how we were going to use guided reading to provide support to all the learners. All teachers were trained and coached in conducting guided reading. The school where I work is big with an average of 10 classes in each grade level. I support all the teachers, nursery to grade six.

The process was not easy. For instance, we found that in one class we had students reading at level B and level Z (including multiple levels in between). To get us started, I trained six instructional assistants and we created mobile literacy centers. One instructional assistant was assigned to a single grade level. We analyzed the data and pulled students across classes for guided reading sessions outside the classroom while the teacher was doing guided reading inside the classroom. In this way, the lower end of the class was getting guided reading support almost every day. The groupings are flexible. Since the beginning of the year, we have reorganized the groupings twice.

 Instructional assistants teaching guided reading in the mobile literacy stations

Obstacles Along the Way

We ordered Pioneer Valley resources, but while we were waiting for the book sets to arrive, I had a team create guided reading lesson plans for the instructional assistants while I filmed videos for teachers and assistants to watch. Since assistants were scheduled to do up to 12 rotations of guided reading a day, they didn’t have time to design lesson plans. Some of the assistants are not trained teachers, which complicates the process. Once we received the teaching cards, the process started going much more smoothly.

The biggest problem was finding time to do guided reading while keeping the rest of the class engaged. I found teachers wanted to do too many things at the same time and expected students to manage themselves while completing activities that were not at the students’ independent level. In the beginning, when I would start talking about minutes dedicated to individualized conferences with each student, some teachers would get discouraged so I needed to work at a different pace for individual teachers.

Instructional videos to support teachers

The Results

After just a month and a half of guided reading instruction in grade one, there was a great improvement in the students’ scores on the DRA assessment. The number of students reading below grade level had decreased while the number of students who read on or above grade level increased by 20%. The MAP assessment confirmed our success! The grade one students performed in the 97% in terms of growth as compared to the norm study. The conditional growth index was positive across all the grade levels. In addition, in an internal survey, teachers reported that guided reading provided them an opportunity to get to know the students well and to support their individual needs. More importantly, we noticed growth with the students who were already higher or fluent readers as they were learning strategies which helped them continue to grow. At this point, I have trained even more assistants who can use the teaching cards to support students simultaneously with the teacher in the classroom. We are coming up with a plan on how the English department could support the work happening in the classroom. It has been an exciting journey for the whole staff!

Personal Experience as a Parent with Guided Reading

As a parent, I decided to put the framework to the test with my own children. I have a five-year-old daughter who is in kindergarten. By the end of the first semester, she was still at a Pre-A level, struggling with the sounds and letter names. I started taking books home and teaching her following the same framework three times a week. In just over a month, she is now reading at level C and slowly transitioning to level D:) What is even better, my three year old was seeing all the attention her sister was getting, so she insisted I needed to teach her guided reading, too! She knows most of the letter names and sounds and reads simple pattern books with great enthusiasm!

Guided Reading Works in an International School Context

International schools are unique due to the number of different nationalities represented who speak their own languages. Due to the current trend of more English language learners joining international schools and the potential gaps students might have once they transfer from one international school to another, individualized attention through guided reading is essential. Having sufficient resources and a supportive leadership team who understand literacy are key. Literacy development remains a major commitment for us at the Canadian International School in Singapore!