From the perspective of a kindergarten teacher, with additional experience teaching at a university level, I can tell you that there is something seriously wrong with the Guided Reading program being used in elementary schools today.
Focusing on the work laid down by former guided reading proponents, I have found that there are some important flaws in the current implementation. I’m not sure that the way their work is being implemented is what they had in mind, but only time can justify whether these methods actually work or not.
During the past few months, I have introduced my 24 kindergarten students to a variety of work stations. These were once known as reading centers, but perhaps the term “work station” motivates a sense of hard work. After all, should five and six year olds be allowed to experience learning as a “fun” activity?
These work stations covered subjects such as comprehension, phonics, fluency, word work, inquiry, and more. Working in small groups of four or five, I provide targeted instruction. Remember that in kindergarten most students are not reading on their own yet and some haven’t yet learned to write their names.
However, in our district, I must group these students into categories: red, yellow, and green. The categorization is done according to DIBELS guidelines. “Red” students require small group interaction every day while “green” students can get by with just once a week. “Yellow” students fall somewhere in between. Each guided reading session should last about an hour and involve a rotation between three different areas.
Anyone with experience in the early childhood area knows that young children need stimulation. Fill their hands with tactile experiences, provide sensory stimulation, and you will have engaged learners. On the other hand, give them a photocopied black and white piece of paper, and it doesn’t matter how good the story might be, you won’t have children who are engaged. Yet, this is how our reading stations are being stocked.
Add to this the problem that there is just one teacher to manage the class of kindergartners, separated into small groups, with very different goals, and you will quickly find the situation devolving into chaos. Even with an experienced aide involved, it can be difficult to get meaningful work accomplished within the allotted 15 minute groupings.
Is this truly the most appropriate way to introduce young children to the joys of reading?
The culture of CCSS teaching seems to focus more on test results and punishment than it does on introducing and fostering a love of learning. To that end, I find myself focusing on classroom management much more than on actual teaching. This is not the best way to approach education, especially with kindergarten students.
I have to wonder why other teachers aren’t speaking up. Is it because this system works better in classrooms with only 18 or 15 students? Is it because the testing and punishment attitude extends to teachers as well as to students? I’m afraid that the failures we are witnessing today are part and parcel with the current early guided reading materials. Until other teachers and administrators find the temerity to stand up for the good of their students, I believe that we will continue down a wrong path with dangerous consequences.