GUIDED READING has been backed by research as being one of the best methods of leading readers through the reading process. It incorporates mini lessons that address good strategies such as think alouds, decoding practice, comprehension monitoring and correction, fluency building, and fostering a love of reading. Researchers such as Fountas and Pinnell have been the front runners in designing and mapping out guided reading for quite a few years, starting with their seminal work: Guided Reading: Good First Reading for All Children, and later in their voluminous and more explicit volume Guiding Readers and Writers.
However, it is important to remember that these strategies were designed for students who do not need compensatory, remedial, or intensive reading instruction. Guided reading is an excellent component to every balanced reading program, but should it be the primary INTERVENTION for struggling or dyslexic students? No! Why? Well first of all, if guided reading really worked for the dyslexic student, then the student wouldn’t still be struggling. Many a good teacher feels like pulling his or her hair out when dyslexic students do not improve with guided reading. It feels as though these students are stuck, not responsive, and resistant to treatment–which is exactly the case. Sometimes teachers even question their ability to teach … So does it make sense to keep doing the same thing over and over again and watching the child not make any progress?
In particular I am amused with Fountas and Pinnell’s Leveled Literacy Intervention. It is simply a watered down version of guided reading using texts that flip-flop between a student’s instructional and independent levels. It is once again—guided reading! The strategy may work for some struggling readers because it does boost confidence, but most of the strategies in this program do not address what a dyslexic student really needs. Furthermore, one research study that was conducted worked with suburban and rural schools. Only 11% of the students at the rural school were diagnosed with a disability and only 6.9% of the students at the suburban school were diagnosed with a disability. The rest of them were “struggling”–but not necessarily dyslexic. The special education students did not make significant gains, while the ELL students made statistically significant gains. Remember, ELL students are NOT dyslexic. Of course there were more studies and Fountas and Pinnell claim that special education students made significant gains … but I’m still not so sure.
My guess is that students who have benefited from this program fall into one of these categories: 1. They did not have good guided reading instruction 2.They were environmentally or educationally deprived or 3. They really benefited from having small group help. But truly dyslexic students did not show much growth, if any. I know. I used the program, and my dyslexic students still struggled and made slow progress at the end of it. Because Fountas & Pinnell are the “big guns” of guided reading, many people do not question the reliability, validity or effectiveness of this program–but they need to.
I think a program like this is a good accommodation for struggling readers in a regular classroom, but it’s not going to address what a dyslexic student really needs! I’m not trying to slam Fountas & Pinnell, but once again, we need to question programs that claim to be interventions, when they aren’t. Sally Shaywitz delineated what a good reading program looks like for dyslexic students in her book, Overcoming Dyslexia. And, according to the National Institute of Heath, Orton Gillingham is still considered to be the front line treatment for students with dyslexia–not guided reading. Let me describe what Dr. Shaywitz has described as a good reading program or intervention for dyslexic students.
1. Systematic and direct instruction in:
- Phonemic Awareness (noticing, identifying, and manipulating the sounds of spoken language)
- Phonics (how letters and groups of letters represent sounds of spoken language)
- Sounding out words (decoding)
- Reading sight words
- Vocabulary and concepts
- Reading comprehension strategies
2. Practice in applying these skills in reading and in writing
3. Fluency Training
4. Enriched language experiences
This sounds like guided reading doesn’t it? But it’s not. The skills are sequential (systematic) and direct (nothing else is being taught but that skill). So the first step is to apply an Orton Gillingham type of program that teaches phonemic awareness and phonics, along with all the other foundational structures of language. Phonemic awareness is the most important foundational skill needed to become a good reader. If this is not addressed, dyslexic students will continue to fail.
Then the other components are taught as well but in a direct, explicit fashion with hands on, multisensory approaches.
When I teach dyslexic students I begin my lessons with an OG program and then I teach other skills and tools–at a level that is easy for them and not overwhelming. It doesn’t look anything like guided reading. It is very specific and very direct. Sight words are not taught by flashcards, but by using a multi-interactive approach that I developed, allowing the student to find the word in context, read it context, spell it in context, and write the sight word in the context of three different sentences. This is explicit and direct. This is an intervention for dyslexic students.
While I could go on and on about what explicit instruction looks like… I think I made my point. It’s specific to the skill you are trying to teach without muddying up the waters with too much other information and skills. Guided reading brings a lot of components into the session–this is too overwhelming for dyslexic students. One characteristic of dyslexic students is that they have a poor short-term memory. If you teaching a bunch of skills all at once–you’ve lost them. Remember …. guided reading is GOOD, but it is not an appropriate INTERVENTION for dyslexic students.
Fountas and Pinnell Study http://www.heinemann.com/fountasandpinnell/research/LLIEfficacyStudyReport2010.pdf
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