Three Considerations for Raising Achievement among English Language Learners with Guided Reading

Working with English Language learners in guided reading presents one of the best opportunities for raising achievement among these students. Keep these three key things in mind to make guided reading an effective part of an ELL’s learning day:

  1. English Language learners shouldn’t be locked into lower levels during guided reading. Text selection for guided reading is often dependent on placement assessments that may include a record of reading behavior (a running record). If students score within a certain percentage range, we say the text is “instructional” and this tells us which text level to use. Sometimes, we confuse being able to read at a certain percentage of accuracy with being able to understand the ideas in the text. English Language learners may have lower accuracy because of a repetitive error, such as dropping the “ed” from a past tense verb (e.g., substituting “want” for “wanted”). If comprehension is adequate and meaning is maintained when the errors are analyzed, a lower accuracy score isn’t a reason for keeping English Language learners in a lower text level in guided reading.
  2. English Language learners benefit from opportunities to engage in authentic discussions during guided reading, rather than responding to teacher-initiated questions. Interesting texts with engaging photographs and illustrations are crucial to initiate student thinking and discussion. As discussion around a text occurs, teachers should use extensive wait time as students decide not only what to say, but how to say it in English.
  3. During guided reading, English Language learners also benefit tremendously from discussions around connected texts. When texts have similar topics and conceptual understandings, students grow their abilities to talk–moving from tentative, exploratory talk (which focuses on figuring out what they think) towards a more presentational type of talk (Barnes, 1992). Presentational talk, where a learner considers what language is needed and how they will use that language to communicate their thinking to others, includes more academic vocabulary and expanded academic sentence structures. This ability to talk about a topic using more presentational language may take several lessons to develop.

When English Language learners develop the abilities to think and talk in these expanded ways, they also develop the ability to read texts with more complex writing. Thoughtful instruction is a key part of the journey in raising achievement among English Language learners with guided reading.