It seems to me that there is a lot less reading out loud – especially in groups - than there used to be in elementary school classes. I am not sure that is a good thing. Reading is the single most important academic skill that a child can have, and reading well leads to being proficient in almost all of the other academic areas. This makes the teaching of reading the single most important job function of a teacher and guided reading out loud in groups is a powerful tool in the teacher’s tool box. It has advantages for all age groups, but especially for the young. In fact, the earlier the better.
There are several skills involved with reading even a simple sentence. You have a child’s decoding skills – whether or not they can sound out a word. There is word recognition and sight word vocabulary. There is the actual smoothness and rhythm of reading. Once these things are mastered you can layer on inflection and tone – reading with feeling – that raise good readers into the heady atmosphere of being a story teller, that melding of reading and acting. Kids love this – trust me. But, for the teacher to get the child to this level, they have to hear exactly what a child is doing to be able to zero in on which facet of their reading needs the most help. In short, the child has got to read out loud – a lot.
The reason for group reading is to get the maximum use of each child’s time. One child reading or working at the board while the others sit and watch, if done too much, can devolve into a lot of mental dead time for the rest of the class, bringing new meaning to “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Group reading, if done right, keeps all the children engaged all the time. It also allows for a child to get some of the individual attention that they might need. A reading group should consist of children who are on approximately the same reading level. Children that are really struggling with reading may have a different set of needs from a group that is reading well. The average classroom may have two or three reading groups, which is why it is really important for early grades to have multiple adults in the classroom, if possible. Books should be matched with a group’s reading level, so that there is always new vocabulary being introduced, but not so much so that it impedes the flow of the reading. Many children’s books are set up to reinforce learning by having many sounds repeated throughout the book, such as “Sam I Am,” or “Cat in the Hat.”
To start, the teacher will pick a child to read a sentence. Every single child in the group will touch the word in the sentence that is being read, staying constantly engaged. When the sentence is read correctly by the child, the teacher responds with, “good job,” then rereads the sentence adding smoothness, tone and inflection so that all the children have a model to follow. Then the entire group reads the sentence together as a unit. Again, “Good job” comes from the teacher, praising the entire group. What has just happened is that an individual child had his reading needs met and an entire group has mastered new sounds and vocabulary words through repetition and modeling. Depending on how the reading is going, the teacher can adjust the length of what is being read to multiple sentences or paragraphs and can call on specific children to read specific sentences, depending on their needs and abilities. Underpinning a good reading group is a vital but invisible role of the teacher – that of class discipline to set up a loving learning environment. You don’t EVER want a child to be made fun of or picked at because they can’t read very well because they will shut down.That is why the constant praise of “good job” is important for the individual child. It is just as important for the group, because group reading forms a bond among all of the children, pulling all of them together, good, bad and in between, into a pride-filled success unit. They are as one. They are successful. They are learning. They are a class.