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posted Apr 6, 2014, 4:37 PM by Courtney Richardson   [ updated Apr 6, 2014, 4:39 PM ]

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of March 23rd

posted Mar 23, 2014, 3:15 PM by Courtney Richardson
When to Start Guided Reading Groups


How soon in the school year to you recommend starting Guided Reading groups?

Jan's Answer:

It all depends upon how independent the students are. I have had some kindergarten teachers start teaching guided reading groups the second week of school. The other children quietly worked in centers. I saw it with my own eyes! I've also seen this happen at other grade levels.  It may be an abbreviated lesson. I always say to begin teaching your lowest groups as soon as possible.  Of course, you will need some assessments completed first. Maybe you teach one group for 15 minutes and follow that with a whole group lesson. If possible, repeat the sequence. If the students worked in centers last year, you might be able to get things going quickly. Don't stress out. Just teach the routines and do your best. 

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of March 16th

posted Mar 19, 2014, 5:45 AM by Courtney Richardson
Inferencing with Nonfiction


How do I teach inferencing using nonfiction books?

Jan's Answer:

The best way I've found to teach inference with nonfiction is to encourage students to ask "why" questions.  Once they are good at asking the questions, I invite them to answer them.  Sometimes kids can use information from the text, but most of the time they'll have to use their background knowledge for nonfiction.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of March 8th

posted Mar 9, 2014, 4:39 PM by Courtney Richardson

Books for Transitional Lesson Plan


Many of the guided reading books in the transitional levels seem to be chapter books, but your transitional lesson plan usually takes 3 days. How do you fit these types of books in with fidelity?

Jan's Answer:

Some books that were written for read-aloud have been leveled for guided reading, however these books can be too long to complete in three days. For transitional readers, I recommend books that have been specifically written for guided reading. Look at the Rigby PM series and the Pioneer Valley Books.  The books are short, yet they have a problem, a plot and dynamic characters. They also have interesting vocabulary that is supported with pictures or context clues. For nonfiction, take a look at the publishers I mention above and "i-openers" by Pearson. The "i-openers" don't have an alphabetical level, but they are assigned a grade level. Teachers can preview the text to determine whether it fits their focus.  

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of March 2nd

posted Mar 5, 2014, 11:48 AM by Courtney Richardson

Phonemic Awareness


I teach kindergarten to a primarily ELL population. I was wondering if you could advise on a phonemic awareness/phonics question. I am continuing to work with my students on segmenting and blending words both orally and in print. I am curious to know if you feel students should first learn to segment and blend words by using the individual phonemes or should they learn to segment and blend words by focusing on the onset and rimes. 

Jan's Answer:

There are several aspects of phonological awareness -- hearing words in a sentence, hearing syllables in a word, segmenting phonemes, manipulating phonemes, hearing rhyming parts, etc.  During the pre-A lesson plan, there are procedures for clapping syllables, hearing rhymes, and hearing initial consonants (all important parts of phonemic awareness). There are no specific Reading Recovery procedures for hearing rhymes nor does Dr. Clay recommend children hear rhymes before they hear phonemes.

The emergent lesson plan In Next Steps in Guided Reading has specific procedures for teaching children to hear and manipulate initial consonants (Level A), discriminating and manipulating final consonant sounds (level B) and finally hearing sounds in sequence (Level C). I strongly recommend teachers use all three word study procedures: picture sorts, manipulating magnetic letters, and sound boxes throughout the course of their lessons. Each word study activity approaches phonemic awareness from a different perspective and promotes strong phonemic awareness skills.

From my work with struggling readers, some children learn to segment phonemes before they can distinguish rhyming parts, others find it easier to distinguish rhymes first.  I recommend you teach both skills (hearing rhymes and segmenting sounds) during whole-class activities such as reading rhyming books, reciting poems, songs and chants, interactive writing, and during small-group lessons.  I have seen some ELL students experience great difficulty hearing rhymes yet they can segment phonemes in a CVC word.  One Spanish teacher told me there are very few Spanish one-syllable words that rhyme.  Perhaps that is why some Hispanic children find this task challenging.  Bottom both.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of February 23rd

posted Feb 24, 2014, 5:18 AM by Courtney Richardson

Reading/Writing Gap


Guided Reading has become a main instructional focus for our teachers at a district level. One concern that has been raised by many teachers is the gap between students' reading and writing abilities. This leads me to two questions: Do you have a resource for knowing what writing should look like at each level? (e.g. What does "level J" writing look like?) and What is an acceptable gap? (e.g. If a student is reading at level J, what is an acceptable writing level for that student?)

Jan's Answer:

I have also noticed a gap between students' reading and writing abilities, which is why I include guided writing with my "next step lesson plans."  I have found that if teachers include guided writing from the get-go, the gap is much smaller.

The problem usually surfaces in second grade and higher when the teachers in the previous grades did not include small-group guided writing in their guided reading lessons.  Writing workshop is a valuable instructional tool, but the whole-class format rarely offers enough support and coaching for the struggling writers.  

I have posted two documents on my website that help teachers know what skills should be taught during guided writing. On the "A-I Tips for Guided Writing", there are specific teaching points for each guided reading level up to level I. With the second document, "J+Guided Writing Tips", I suggest teachers analyze the writers and select appropriate teaching points based upon the students' needs.  It is not uncommon to have a 3rd or 4th grader reading close to grade level who needs to work on writing with complete sentences and appropriate punctuation, even though that target skill should have been learned in levels D-I. 

I recently taught a guided writing lesson to 4th graders reading at level P, which is slightly below benchmark for January. We analyzed the 5 writers in the group and selected a teaching point for each student. Two students needed to work on writing with meaning.  Although they were ESOL, they had good command of the language and spoke with correct grammar. Their writing, however, did not make sense due to missing words and straying off topic.  I had these students say each word while they wrote and then reread each sentence for meaning before they proceeded to the next sentence. It was amazing how much better their writing was with this simple scaffold.  Two other students in the group wrote with complete, meaningful sentences, but they were not using periods or capital letters appropriately.  I asked them to rehearse each sentence and make a fist at the end to remind them to insert a period.  Again, such a simple scaffold did the trick.  The last student had complete sentences and good mechanics, but he was short on details.  I simply wrote "tell me more" on a small post-it note and placed it on the top of his writing page.  It was a constant reminder for him to add more to each thought...and it worked.

The important thing to remember is to target one skill at a time, especially with struggling writers in the upper grades.  Too often we give these students a editor's checklist with 10 things on it, and the student is overwhelmed.  

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of February 2nd

posted Feb 2, 2014, 5:19 PM by Courtney Richardson   [ updated Feb 2, 2014, 5:21 PM ]

Running Record


Can I take a running record during guided reading? If so, where does it fit in the lesson plan?

Jan's Answer:

When I was a RR teacher leader, I took a running record every day with every child. Running records are useful for observing and analyzing a reader's strategies and problem-solving actions. When I first developed the "Next Step Lesson Format," I tried to mimic the 30-minute Reading Recovery framework, but I found it was too challenging and time-consuming to use it with a small group of students. I recommend the 20-minute guided reading lesson because it allows classroom teachers to teach more groups each day. Plus using the same book across two days gives plenty of time for familiar reading, guided word study and guided writing.

How often should we do formal assessment?  Taking a running record on a cold read three times a year seems about right. My biggest concern is that classroom teachers don't spend so much time assessing students, that they don't have enough time to analyze the assessment or plan the appropriate instruction.  

So when do I take a running record during guided reading? I like to take a running record on one student at the beginning of Day 2 while the rest of the students in the group are reading other familiar books. I don't need to take the running record on the entire book -- just a few pages will give me the information I need to select a teaching point and plan the next steps for instruction.This still gives me about five minutes to listen to and coach the other students in the group while they are reading familiar books. My prompting and teaching on Day 2 is mostly for fluency. 

If you follow this plan, you can take a running record on each student in the group every two weeks. If you are doing intervention groups that last 30 minutes, you could feasibly take a running record on one student each day while the rest of the students are reading familiar books. I also recommend teachers take anecdotal notes that resemble a running record whenever they listen to a student read (Day 1 and Day 2).  

What is most important? You need to listen to the student read, record your observations, and use your notes to plan the next step that will help that child become a better reader.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of January 26th

posted Jan 27, 2014, 4:53 AM by Courtney Richardson   [ updated Jan 27, 2014, 4:54 AM ]

Number of Days Per Book

The number of days spent on a book depends upon the reading level and text choice. The emergent and early lessons should be two days per book.  The transitional is usually three, but it depends upon the length of the book.  Sometimes the kids finish the book on the first day, and we do guided writing on the second day.  Occasionally, the longer books require three days of reading, and then one day of guided writing.  With fluent readers, it varies.  A poem or short text is often done in one day, whereas short chapter books may take as long as four or five days.  I never go longer than five days on a book, because the children lose interest.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of December 15th

posted Dec 20, 2013, 5:07 AM by Courtney Richardson   [ updated Dec 20, 2013, 5:11 AM ]

Finger Pointing

I recommend finger-pointing until students control one to one matching.  Once they do (which usually occurs by level C), I discourage pointing so students can increase their fluency. See page 21 in Dr. Clay's Reading Recovery: A Guidebook for Teachers in Training: "If finger pointing is allowed to persist it may become a prop which gets in the way of fluent reading. So as correct directional responding becomes more consistent the teacher can begin to discourage pointing with the finger." See pg. 84, The Next Step in Guided Reading.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of December 1

posted Dec 1, 2013, 6:10 PM by Courtney Richardson   [ updated Dec 20, 2013, 5:12 AM ]

Does guided reading make a difference?  

Based upon data I have collected over the past ten years, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”  To be powerful and effective, however, guided reading must be a year-long commitment that is part of the daily classroom routine.  In addition to consistency, several other factors will maximize the effectiveness of guided reading instruction:

*Understand the reading process.

*Use assessments to target needs and form flexible groups.

*Choose appropriate texts.

*Provide explicit, focused instruction.

*Teacher appropriate skills during the guided reading lesson.

*Include guided writing, especially with emergent, early, and transitional readers.

*Foster independence by providing a gradual release of support.

*Work within a balanced literacy framework.

Richardson, Jan, The Next Step in Guided Reading, pp. 267-269.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of November 24th

posted Nov 25, 2013, 4:13 AM by Courtney Richardson   [ updated Dec 20, 2013, 5:12 AM ]

Helping Struggling Readers

Because many issues affect learning, students will progress at different rates.  Some factors, such as attendance, illness, family crises, and so forth are outside of your control.  This chapter (7) focuses on elements you can control:  behaviors, strategies, and skills that can impede student progress.

Step 1:  Analyze your teaching.

Have you provided consistent daily guided reading lessons?  Have you been following the lesson framework?  Have you emphasized one aspect of reading more than others?  For example, you might have overstressed decoding skills and neglected to prompt for meaning.

Step 2:  Analyze student assessments.

Gather recent assessments such as running records, guided writing journals, dictated sentences, and high-frequency word charts.  As you analyze the data, describe the student’s reading process.  Ask yourself, “What does the student do well?  What cues, strategies, and skills does the student ignore?”

Step 3:  Ask a colleague to observe the student.

Find an experienced colleague who can observe the student in the classroom.  It might be another classroom teacher, a reading specialist, a coach, a Title 1 teacher, or a Reading Recovery teacher.  This extra set of eyes and ears might notice behaviors you have missed.

Step 4: Develop an acceleration plan.

Now that you have analyzed assessments and observed the student reading, you and your colleague should establish a specific plan for acceleration.  Keep the focus on the student’s reading process and avoid issues such as classroom behavior, attention deficit, and failure to complete homework assignments.  Above all, do not allow yourself to attribute the child’s slow progress to a lack of parental support.  Neither you nor the child can control that.

For more suggestions on developing an acceleration plan, go to:

Richardson, Jan,  The Next Step in Guided Reading, pp. 254-267.

Literacy Tip of the Week- Week of November 17th

posted Nov 22, 2013, 11:42 AM by Courtney Richardson   [ updated Dec 20, 2013, 5:13 AM ]

Questions Teachers Ask About Fluent Guided Reading...


Should the students write during the first reading or after they read?

Students should always write during the first reading because this will improve comprehension and provide you with a way to evaluate their understanding.  It lets you know how you should scaffold.  Having students write after they read an entire selection can also be beneficial as long as you have a purpose for the assignment.  Guided writing is completed after the students read the text to provide writing support and to extend comprehension.


Can students write on a whiteboard instead of in their reading notebook?

I have students write in their notebooks because it is an artifact you can use for evaluating students.  If they write on a whiteboard, you have no record of what they did.


What should I do while students are reading silently?

You should have mini-conferences with each student.  Look at their notes, ask them if there was something that confused them, ask them questions about what they read, ask them to tell you what they are going to write next,  help them write bullets, help them use vocabulary strategies, etc.  If there is nothing for you to do, then the text is too easy or you need to change youstrategy focus so students are challenged.


For more frequently asked questions about fluent readers, go to:

Richardson, Jan, The Next Step in Guided Reading, pp. 248-250.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of November 10th

posted Nov 13, 2013, 4:51 AM by Courtney Richardson   [ updated Dec 20, 2013, 5:14 AM ]

Selecting the Text for Fluent Readers

It is common for intermediate teachers to be uncomfortable selecting texts for guided reading because they are not accustomed to matching texts to readers.  Don’t worry about that.  You will get better at it as you work with your students and understand their strengths and needs.  If you find the students did not need your help during the guided reading lesson, then the text was too easy.  Your students’ body language and facial expressions usually let you know when the text you selected is too difficult.  If your students cry (or you want to cry), it was too hard!

The guided reading text is a vehicle that will transport your students toward becoming better readers.  Any relatively short text can be used—poetry, short stories, newspaper articles, magazine articles, short chapter books, and informational texts.  I do not recommend using a novel for guided reading.  Longer texts are better suited for literature circles and self-selected reading.

Richardson, Jan,  The Next Step in Guided Reading, pg. 184.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of November 3rd

posted Nov 8, 2013, 9:06 AM by Courtney Richardson   [ updated Dec 20, 2013, 5:14 AM ]
Teaching Comprehension During Guided Reading 

Comprehension instruction is part of every guided reading lesson, even with emergent readers, but it plays an especially important role in the fluent lesson.  Because fluent readers have few decoding problems, they are able to explore the process of comprehension on challenging texts.  As students read, they write short responses that teachers use to assess comprehension.  Then the teacher has mini-conferences to identify any confusions and to scaffold students who need support.  The most important factor at the fluent level is using a text that offers just the right amount of challenge to force students to “work at it.”

Richardson, Jan,  The Next Step in Guided Reading, pg. 178.