Teacher Observation is Key in Grouping Students for Guided Reading

Grouping students for guided reading first requires that teachers ‘know their students.’ Teachers assess their students, using the tools they know—letter/sound checks, a fluency passage, a benchmarking kit. Yet somehow, when teachers put the students together, the grouping just doesn’t seem to be quite ‘right.’ Something is missing—and the missing piece is teacher observation. Teacher observation is key in grouping students for guided reading.

Grouping students for guided reading groups includes noticing how students process text, not relying just on a level or fluency measure. These data points can be a starting place but by noticing what students do as they process text, we can form groups based on strengths and immediate needs, rather than on isolated measures. As we observe our readers, we might notice two students who are both identified as being instructional at a Level J but who process in different ways. When encountering an unknown word, one student might use initial letters to substitute in a word but not check to see if the word makes sense and then continue to do this each time they read that same word in the text. Another student reading the same text might substitute in a word that makes sense but not be visually similar. As this student continues to read, the next time the reader encounters that same word, they hesitate, look closely at the word and read the word correctly. These readers have processed in very different ways and our grouping of these students for guided reading would be different.

Building trust in your own judgement as a teacher using guided reading requires understanding the expectations of readers at different stages of reading development. Using a continuum that articulates the expectations of various reading stages is crucial to develop the eyes to see student strengths. It’s beneficial to consult a continuum of reading behaviors because it helps teachers notice and support students navigating the various stages of reading development. Using data that includes teacher observation, the grouping of students for guided reading begins to feel ‘right’ and so does the teaching and learning.

When grouping students for guided reading, the results of teacher observation should be the deciding factor.