Why I don’t teach guided reading: I can’t stand it!

Is there a better way, when Guided Reading isn't really working?

  • Guided reading is a popular activity in many primary classrooms, allowing time for the teacher to read with students.
  • This article challenges the practice of guided reading, within upper primary classrooms.
  • Sophie Bartlett tells of her experience and better ways to support children’s reading development.

I have changed the way I run my GR sessions every half-term since September; therefore, so far, I am currently on my 4th variation of GR.

This is my current set-up (in Year 5):

  • 5 ability groups (lowest = (old) level 2c, highest = (old) level 4a)
  • sessions last for 25 minutes and are held every day before literacy
  • carousel activities (reading with an adult, independent reading, follow-up task, free reading and a session on Bug Club using our Fizzbooks)
  • each group reads with an adult once a week
  • the lowest ability readers read 1-1 with an adult at least once a week as well as joining in with GR sessions
  • GR plans are done by book with AF questions planned in for each chapter

I hate it. I hate planning it. I don’t believe it has much of an effect, which is why I change tack every half-term. The way I see it (and I am highly aware this could be very wrong – I am only an NQT, after all), my highest ability readers will progress no matter what I do. They are fluent readers. They enjoy reading. They interpret texts successfully. They have all achieved mid – high level 5s on past reading papers, but I have only “put them down” as a 4a as that is their “expected progress” (talk about playing the game). When asking a member of SLT how exactly to extend my HA readers, her advice was to “teach them exactly what each reading Assessment Focus is, to identify the types of questions each AF asks, and how exactly to answer them”. Is that really where I should go next with these children? Surely that sucks all the fun out of it?

For my lower ability readers, the most effective thing for them is the 1-1 reading. I also run an assembly intervention group for them, where we do comprehension exercises together (I teach them how to find answer certain types of question, how to find answers in the text etc.). Bar two children (who have extreme needs), all my children are progressing “nicely” in reading.

However, I hate GR. I don’t believe it is my GR sessions that are causing them to progress. I think it is how we discuss texts in class. I think it is how I (try to) foster a love of reading and ask them questions about their own books. I think I could scrap my GR sessions, and the children would still progress. And because I think this, I try to change it, because I know that if I think it’s ineffective, it probably is ineffective.

Anyway, I am an NQT, and I do what I’m told. 25 minutes a day on Guided Reading, even though our reading results are above national average? Sure! Let me spend countless hours reading lengthy books and planning in questions for them – I can’t wait.

You may have seen me mention my mum a lot in these posts (she is @LMisselle1 on Twitter), and it may be her fault that I hate GR. She doesn’t do it. She hates it. Here’s why. And here’s what she does instead.

@LMisselle1 has taught for 36 years in five different primary schools from Reception to Year 6, but has been a Year 6 teacher for the last 15 years. She is currently also a deputy head and literacy co-ordinator. (She would also like to emphasise that she changes the way she teaches reading every year, but doesn’t like the typical carousel activities! “Gosh, don’t make me sound like an ancient teacher who never changes her ways!”)

@MissNQT: Why don’t you like Guided Reading?

@LMisselle1: I find it really boring. I remember when I was a child (and I’ve always been a quick, fluent reader) that I always got really frustrated by people who couldn’t read as quickly as me and I would read ahead, I wouldn’t be listening and it actually spoilt it for me because I couldn’t read at the pace I wanted. 

If you are reading with a group, shouldn’t you let children read at their own pace and go round and then ask those children questions?

Yes, that’s fine, but still you’re limiting my reading. If I’m really enjoying the book, I don’t want you to tell me to read to page 22, stop and then talk about it. I don’t want to stop, I’m enjoying it and I want to keep going. For the poor readers, it must be so embarrassing, and then they’re sat with the other poor readers; even poor readers get frustrated by other poor readers.

How long have you managed to avoid it as a discrete activity?

I think the last time I did it… I tried it about 6 years ago, did it for about 5 weeks and then stopped.

Was that a carousel activity? And were they in ability groups?


Have head-teachers ever asked you why you don’t do it or tried to make you do it?


Is that because they trust what you’re doing because you’re experienced? As in, I couldn’t get away with it, could I!

I suppose, yes, because I’m an experienced teacher, that helps – I’m lucky as well to have a head that trusts me and as long as I get the results, she doesn’t insist I get there a certain way. I am lucky now though to have a head like that because I have had heads that have insisted I stick to the party line.

How do you teach reading?

I read to them an awful lot [a class book]. We talk about the book and I use extracts from the book as a class activity in literacy lessons and I use extracts from other books where we talk about style, intent and meaning.

How do you ensure you’re covering the specific AFs?

I don’t worry about that. I know what they need to know for their SATs and I know I cover those things generally. I don’t ever concentrate on one, I just make sure I cover them all.

How do you know every child is learning from that method?

From the written work they do and discussions. I do hear them read, because whenever we do any work from a text, they each read one sentence out loud and that gets them to recognise punctuation too.

How do you assess it?

I give them mock SATs papers, but I also know from their own responses and discussions and my “teacher’s expertise”.

If I asked you what level a specific child in your class was, could you tell me?

Yes. Maybe not the sublevel, but the levels were never meant to be divided into sublevels anyway. Off the top of my head, I could tell you the level each child is in reading.

What proof do you have that this method is effective?

My SATs results (if we’re going to measure each other by SATs results) are always above the national average.

Is it something you do as a whole school, or just something that works best for you?

No – just me. Other teachers do GR – they enjoy it.

Do they? Because I don’t!

I assume they do because I’ve suggested other ways; I suggested we do guided writing instead, as, in our school, reading really isn’t a problem.

So do you think GR can be done successfully by other teachers?

Yes, if they enjoy it. I don’t think anything can be done successfully if it isn’t enjoyable. If you’re made to do something and you don’t enjoy it and you don’t see its value, you’re not going to teach it successfully.

If you taught in KS1, would you teach it any differently?

If I taught in Year 1, of course, I’d have to hear readers. I would do more reading because they’re still learning to read. The assumption is that by Year 5 and 6 they can read, and if they’re not fluent readers by Year 5 and 6 then, let’s face it, they’re never going to be. I have said to parents before that they need to read with them at home more regularly, because at this stage if they’re struggling to read, its the parents’ fault. You can’t teach them to read by the time they get to Year 6. If they’re not a fluent reader at 10 or 11 years old, there’s not one thing I can do about it apart from speak to the parents. The children love being read to, and it engages them with all sorts of literature that may not normally read. Every text I choose has a purpose – usually because it models something I want them to learn. 

What about if your literacy class isn’t the same as your normal class (like mine) so you can’t always use your class book as part of your reading sessions?

Read the book in your literacy lessons instead! Or, as a team, agree to read the book as a class book so everyone can use it in their literacy lessons; I think it’s invaluable to use a book that you’ve read. Rather than teach newspapers, let’s read The Iron Man and write a newspaper report about The Iron Man.

I’d happily let the children all just free read during our GR sessions because I think it’s important that children are given the time to just sit and enjoy reading to themselves. Why couldn’t we have 20 minutes every day of just quiet reading?

As adults, we always give children things to do that we’d never do as adults. Imagine if I gave you a book you were enjoying and said, “We’re going to stop in 20 minutes to talk about it.” You don’t want to stop and talk about it, you want to just read it! I’m enjoying it, why kill it for me? Look at some secondary school students, how they hate Shakespeare. Some people look for things just for the sake of it – no, he didn’t write “the blue curtain” because it reflected the blueness of the person’s soul, he wrote “blue curtain” because he probably has blue curtains in his bedroom! Why kill books by dissecting them?

… Aaaaaand that’s a-whole-nother debate!

Please either tweet me or comment below to let me know how you do GR – I am always looking for new ways to try!

This is a re-blog post originally posted by @_MissieBee and published with kind permission.

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