3… 2… 1… Blast Off!
First, I want to shout-out a huge THANK YOU to Carla from Comprehension Connection and Andrea from Reading Toward the Stars for organizing this “Back-to-School” blog hop. I love opportunities to collaborate with our amazing group of literacy bloggers, and I can’t wait to read through all the ideas that are shared! I’m sure they will be out of this world! (See what I did there?) 😉
For this blog hop, each blogger was asked to dig into their teacher toolboxes to share something that would help “blast off” the school year. As you navigate through this blog hop, you’ll find a variety of fun literacy resources and ideas to use in your classroom for the months of August & September. There are book ideas, guided reading tips, classroom set-up suggestions, and SO much more!
(NOTE: If you’re just joining the hop now, you may want to go back and see the other blog posts you missed. The first stop is Reading Toward the Stars.)
When brainstorming what to share with you, I couldn’t help but think about the CRAZINESS of this time of year. Not to say it isn’t crazy during other months… but “Back to School” season is especially busy. Between getting READY for the school year (i.e., setting up classrooms, organizing resources & materials, getting lesson plans in order, etc.) and SURVIVING the first week of school (i.e., establishing classroom routines, getting to know your new students, keeping your sanity, etc.), it’s just… C.R.A.Z.Y.
To help manage the “crazy,” I decided to share a few of my “getting organized for guided reading” ideas and resources with you. Hopefully they can help you get started with small group instruction during the first few weeks!
Getting Organized for Guided Reading
Getting guided reading up and running shouldn’t be an overwhelming, painful task. Some teachers feel they can’t start their small group instruction until they have beginning-of-the-year data on every single student. For those classrooms, guided reading and small groups could be delayed for many weeks while assessments take over and pause instruction. My suggestion is to get started right away, if possible, and to use the spring data that you have. Yes, there may be some summer regression (or a lot, in some cases), but it gives you a starting point. You can always make adjustments as you collect up-to-date assessment data and get to know your students.
Grouping Your Students
Unless I have the past year’s anecdotal records or running records, I try to group the students initially by reading level. Later, I may change the groups to strategy groups or a combination of the two. It’s difficult to guess at which strategies your students will need until you have a chance to read with them or analyze past records.
Use a form like this one (bel0w) to help you map out groups. It used to be a paid product in my store, but I recently changed it to be a free download. It’s a 2-page product – one page is organized by colors and F&P levels, and the other page is completely blank so you can customize your own.
You don’t need to meet in a group with every student, every day. Create a rotating schedule and try to stick to it. You could even consider implementing 1:1 conferences versus regular guided reading groups. Pick what works for you and what you can manage!
Picking Texts for the First Week
If you’re not sure what text-level to pick for your groups, and you don’t already have a text in mind, you should consider starting your first round of guided reading with a poem. Poetry is a fun way to kick-start reading instruction at the beginning of the year and allows students to show off what they can do! Plus, most students could use a little fluency practice after a few months out of the classroom. You could even use the same poem for every group but differentiate the instruction. As you observe student reading behavior within the small groups, start filling-out an informal skills assessment for each student (TeacherVision has a great printable form here). A skills assessment will allow you to start monitoring each student’s level of proficiency with different oral reading skills and comprehension strategies. It will also help you plan strategy lessons for students while you’re still collecting assessment data.
If you’re looking for a fun “Back to School” poem to use, check out the partner poem I shared in a blog post a few days ago. A few other options are listed below!
Back to School Poetry:
Independent Tasks for Students
We use Daily 5 in my building, which helps build-up stamina and independence in students. I love this structure because, once it’s up and running, it allows teachers to work with small groups without interruptions. Of course, a structure like this takes TIME to model and practice at the beginning of the year, so your small group instruction may need to be modified for the first week or so. If you are not familiar with Daily 5, consider activities like literacy centers, task cards, or independent choice boards for your students to complete while you meet with your small groups. You could even have them work on back-to-school writing pieces like Hello School Year, Goodbye Summer poems.
Collecting Anecdotal Notes During Guided Reading
A big part of guided reading, especially in the beginning, is collecting and organizing anecdotal notes and informal assessments. Find a system that works for you! Some teachers use clipboards. Some teachers use mailing labels. I use a big binder and create tabs within the binder for each student. This only works if you have a small group table where it can stay (it gets VERY heavy!). I record anecdotal notes for each student and collect running records, sight word lists, student samples, etc. Sometimes I will jot a quick note on a post-it and will later transfer it to the anecdotal page, or I will create a summary page of anecdotal post-it notes for each student.
Download a FREE packet of Anecdotal Notes Forms for Guided Reading:
If you have access to an iPad, I’ve also used digital forms (Google Docs) or apps (e.g., Notability) that I can take type notes into. For the Google Doc form, once you submit notes for a student, it exports the data into a spreadsheet that you can sort, print, etc. I only used the iPads when I traveled around the classroom to the students (vs. them traveling to me) because the iPad was portable. In the end, I went back-and-forth between this and a sticky note system because I ended up typing WAY too slow. If you’re quick with the iPad keyboard, though, it’s a great way to organize anecdotal notes. (I blogged about how to do this last year! Check out the post here.)
Getting organized and ready to start small group instruction is half the battle. I hope these resources help you blast off a great year, especially with guided reading. Do you have any suggestions? Feel free to comment with any tips, suggestions, or resources YOU have for getting started with guided reading!
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Now it’s time to “Blast Off!” to the next blog stop, This Little Piggy Reads. Click the rocket ship (below) to hop directly to the post!