Tuesday, March 5, 2013

More about Middle-School Guided Reading

I was able to observe another middle-school (7th grade) teacher using the Guided Reading structure, and we talked a little bit about methods that are effective for this age group.  

I should point out at this point that I don't want to pretend to be the best at using Guided Reading.  There are things about the strategy that I don't like, and that I struggle with.  It takes a significant amount of prep time to start, for example.  If it weren't so effective, and if the kids didn't enjoy the change so much, I might not use it at all.  But those are powerful motivators for teachers.  I also struggle with re-using old curriculum.  I like to try new things, sometimes to a fault, and I sometimes abandon old ideas (like old stations) merely because I think I have a better idea.  So, I end up experimenting a lot, instead of using "tried-and-true" stations.  

I'm thinking through the last part of the year, now that we're in "testing mode."  I think that Guided Reading is a nice, engaging strategy for the "home stretch," and there are a lot of fun things kids can do as part of this that are still effective and yield results.  But I also really want to push more writing.  I haven't done enough Writing Workshop this year, and I'm hoping to play around with ways to combine the two.  

So, as I dig through my professional resources (I found a book by Katie Wood Ray that I'm going to look through for new perspectives on workshop), and I refine some of the things that I've already done, I'm looking at how to make the most of Guided Reading.  

The teacher that I observed didn't do traditional "rotations."  Instead of a "you go here at this time" rotation, as I've seen in elementary school, or the "get your materials and return to your seat to work on this at this time" structure that I usually use, she establishes the stations and then allows kids to work on the various stations at their own pace.  The only timed and structured station, really, is the teacher station.  There is a fixed group of kids ("fixed" as in set by the teacher, according to a specific purpose) who meet with the teacher for a reasonable chunk of time (15-20 minutes or so), then are dismissed to continue working on stations.  

There are positives and negatives to this way of doing things:

POSITIVE - 
  • Kids have more flexibility to follow their interests and work at their own pace.  (More choice) 
  • Less troublesome if kids are absent or pulled out for something
  • Less set-up time for rotations and stations (don't have to create a huge, detailed chart and keep posted)
  • Can create an incentive to finish early through engaging "early finishers" activities, like games or "free time" activities
NEGATIVE - 
  • Need to monitor stations and "sharing" to avoid crowding or "I was there first!" disputes
  • Less immediate accountability for off-task or misbehaving kids who might not want to do all of the stations 
  • Less control over personality clashes and kids who might work better away from each other
Most of the negatives involve management issues.  It's much easier to lose control in this kind of an environment, so a teacher who attempts this approach will have to feel comfortable trusting his/her kids with this kind of freedom.  It allows choice, but it also might allow conflict over popular choices.  It would also take some teaching and some control over conflict resolution.  During the observation I was doing, for example, some kids were watching videos on a portable DVD player.  There just wasn't enough room for everyone to watch at the same time.  Similarly, there was an iPod with a song and some headphones that kids were supposed to listen to (and summarize).  There just weren't enough headphones for everyone to do this at once.  It helps when all the stations are reasonably "cool," of course.  But I can still see that it takes teaching - or some fabulous students, though I think some teaching would have to be involved - to get kids to understand this kind of procedure.  

I like this format, and I like the kind of feedback it provides me about the stations and about the students.  I think that kids enjoy having a say in what goes into the stations, and I really think it might be fun to invite kids to contribute to a "music" station, for example, since I know so little about contemporary music (though I'm trying).  

I'll be thinking about this over the next few weeks, and I'll try to post some more about how I'm melding (love the Star Trek reference) Writing Workshop and Guided Reading.  
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