What are the benefits and pitfalls of using guided reading groups in grades 4-8?

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Guided reading groups attempt to provide instruction designed to meet the needs of small groups of students who are developmentally similar in acquisition of literacy skills. If students are grouped appropriately, this can be a valuable benefit of the approach because it is allowing each student to receive instruction at the level s/he is ready to receive and apply most effectively. This does mean the teacher needs to be doing frequent assessments of students' progress in literacy learning and adjusting groups in response to changing needs based on different speeds of understanding and applying skills.

Guided reading groups frequently make use of trade materials rather than one comprehensive reading textbook. This allows for exposure to a wide range of types of literature and styles of writing, which may appeal to a wider range of student interests and provide motivation, but requires teachers to have the organizational ability to locate or develop appropriate lessons and activities based on many different beginning points in varied books.

When an instructor is working with one guided reading group, the remainder of the students in a class need to have other activities that are worthwhile and instructive uses of their time. Teachers need to have those independent activities prepared, need to establish classroom discipline expectations so students understand how to use the time appropriately, and must have procedures in place to deal with questions that may arise among students not in the group receiving direct instruction.

Guided reading groups can be very beneficial for learners and for teachers wanting opportunities to focus on small groups of students and the needs of those individuals. In order to make the groups effective, however, significant preparatory time and effort is needed for the groups and for the rest of the class.

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