Guided Reading--Nailed

The other day I taught an incredible guided reading lesson. Forgive the hubris. It was the best session to-date. During our literacy rotation, I had three groups occupying themselves with mildly educational tasks while I got down to the nitty-gritty with six kids. We were studying the gold rush out of our history textbook. This was how it was structured:

  • One kid would read a paragraph, we would do a choral read of the next paragraph, then repeat, switching kids each time for the individual read.
  • We would stop at any significant domain-specific vocabulary, write the word, look it up in a glossary, and write the definition.
  • Periodically, I would call out, "stop and jot." At that signal, they would write something that surprised them, something they learned, something that interested them, or something they had a question about, then indicate the type in the margin with a S, L, a star, or a ?, respectively. 

And it was glorious. They followed along. They were writing. We had conversations as a group. But what felt most important, were the questions they were asking. They were asking questions about Sutter, why gold is in rivers, and what a sawmill was. We spent the most time on the sawmill, I drew a great diagram, talked about how they would use the river to transport logs, and explained how they were powered. They left with more questions we didn't have time to talk about, readying them for our next session later on in the week.

It was great, but after reflecting, I think it could have been better. I realized that when they posed their questions, I answered them. Nothing against answers, but instead of teaching them to fish, I handed them one. Perhaps it would have been better to walk them through the process of seeking out answers to their questions instead of the more enjoyable and less difficult task of doling out wisdom. I like being the answer guy. I like showing my students I know how the world works because somewhere, deep down in my subconscious, I am trying to earn their respect by demonstrating intellectual tact and prowess. Maybe there is a bonding that happens when an adult imparts information to a child that I was seeking after. The fault is that my role as a teacher is to help them develop into independent thinkers, not dependent friends. I wanted to deliver the information to them, but by doing so, kept them dependent. I know this line of thinking is extreme and in reality is full of mixed motives, but it helps clarify the situation.

I don't think Freire wouldn't have given them the answers. He would have empowered them to go find their own answers. I have a great list of excuses--not enough time, not enough computers, information is too deep in the internet, etc. But still, I want to be honest with myself about what could have been better because I don't want to lose sight of the ideal. I never want to lose sight of the ideal. It keeps me sane.