Friday, February 2, 2018

Rethinking Book Introductions During Guided Reading

Lately, I've been thinking about the ways we scaffold for students during guided reading lessons. Over the weekend I attended the TCTELA conference in Galveston and had the privilege of listening to Jan Burkins present a session (author of Reading Wellness and Who's Doing the Work?). A few ideas that Jan shared coupled with what I've observed in district classrooms got me thinking more deeply about the way we introduce a book at the beginning of a guided reading lesson.

I visit classrooms throughout my district every Thursday and week after week I see teachers using up large portions of their guided reading time on book introductions and picture walks.

Your introduction should be "brief and lean" (Fountas & Pinnell, 2006). There is no need to spend time talking about what students already know. An effective introduction prepares readers for the language they will come across in the book while giving them a sense of the plot or theme of the story (Fisher, Frey, & Hattie, 2017). In a sense, you are providing them with a type of "road map" to the text (Fountas & Pinnell, 2017).

The introduction is not meant to take problem solving away from the reader. An effective introduction should leave work to be done. You want to provide only enough support to enable students to take on a more complex text than they can read on their own. By providing them opportunities to engage in problem solving in the text, they are building their reading processing powers (Fountas & Pinnell, 2006, 2017).

When using books with illustrations, the introduction oftentimes is a picture walk. Similar to a text introduction, the intent of a picture walk is not to tell students everything that will happen in the story. Instead it should prepare them for the language they will come across in the book while giving them a sense of the plot or theme of the story. Also, it is not a pop quiz. Avoid using the introduction to belabor students with questions about the book and its illustrations (Fisher, Frey, & Hattie, 2017).

In their book, Who's Doing the Work?, Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris provide an alternative idea to planning for an elaborate introduction. They suggest letting students decide which strategies to try in order to familiarize themselves with the text. In their next generation version of guided reading they encourage teachers to do less (tell) and facilitate more. Prompts are mostly general and teaching points are reflective rather than directive.

The following is an example of an introduction from the book, Who's Doing the Work?:
"This book is about a dog and a cat who go on an adventure in a big city."

"How will you figure out what this books is about?" or "What should we do first to get started in this book?"

When we give students all the information they need and always prompt them by telling them what strategy to use and/or exactly what to do, then we are robbing them of the ability to problem solve as a reader. This is not to say that you should never give a student information or help them out. Create anchor charts with students during read-alouds and shared reading that will help jump start their thinking during guided reading.

So... as you get ready for your next guided reading lesson consider how much time you are spending on the introduction and how much information you are giving your students. Also, ask yourself "Am I asking questions that tell my students what to do or am I prompting them to think about the text and make a decision on their own?"

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