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4 Ways Guided Reading Supports English Learners

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“I had a student ask me, ‘When is it our turn to read?’” shares Melanie Sembritski. “That’s when we really started looking around for a new reading program.”

Classrooms and schools across the country have shifted toward more personalized instruction in recent years, and one practice has been guided reading. For English learners and other students with unique learning needs, guided reading offers valuable opportunities that whole group instruction cannot typically provide. 

We sat down with Superintendent Wesley Sever, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Instruction Melanie Sembritski, and Second Grade Teacher Kelsi Iturralde to share the positive effects guided reading instruction has had in their district, particularly for multilingual learners.

How can guided reading support English learners?

Increased opportunities for students to directly practice skills.

“In a lot of the classrooms, students weren't reading as much. They were sitting there waiting for their turn. And then it reminded me of when I was a teacher a long time ago, I felt like I was doing the same thing, that I was doing more of the talking.” - Melanie Sembritski

Although many traditional lessons are structured around the teacher leading the activity, we know that the best way for students to learn is through engagement. In particular, students learning to speak and read in a new language need sufficient opportunities to practice the words and techniques they are being exposed to. Guided reading is a great way to flip the whole-group instruction model and significantly increase the amount of time each student gets to spend practicing their reading skills.

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Listen to our conversation on implementing the workshop model to support ELs with reading when you're ready to try this step.

Structured to meet students at their unique level.

“The students are doing the work, so they're the ones that get to benefit the most from it when they get to learn at their level and you get to meet them where they are. There are always going to be gaps in the classroom between the different levels of where your students are at, and teaching whole-class reading leaves some just lost.” - Kelsi Iturralde

Like any other student demographic, English learners are not a homogenous group.  Despite similarities in language, grade level, and lived experiences, their individual language and reading needs will be unique. Additionally, students have different personalities and levels of comfort; in many instances, English learners may not be comfortable sharing or participating in front of the entire class, but may do so more consistently in smaller group settings. Guided reading allows educators to create more beneficial and engaging lessons based on individual needs. 

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Need help managing EL student data? We can help.

Allows for more formative assessment and immediate feedback.

“I firmly believe that if something's not working, we need to change it immediately. When you go to the doctor and you are bleeding and you need stitches, he doesn't say, ‘Hey, let's make another appointment in two months.’ Well, in education, we know if something's not working in a week or two, so why do we wait until the semester.” - Wesley Sever

Guided reading offers not only frequent opportunities for formative assessment and feedback, but also a fluid approach to structures for learning. Second Grade Teacher Kelsi Iturralde points out that because she is constantly assessing and re-evaluating, she can quickly see if a small group isn’t working and move students to where they need to be without waiting until the end of a unit or even an entire semester to take action.

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Check out our Triangle, Circle, Square activity as a quick way to incorporate more feedback into your next lesson plan.

Students can select guided reading texts that are culturally relevant.

A core component of guided reading is student voice and student choice: giving the individual readers the power to select and engage with texts that feel relevant for them. Kingsburg Elementary School Charter district invested a significant amount of resources and energy into building libraries of text that would be representative of their student body.

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If you're looking to add more culturally relevant books to your classroom or school library, this post can help.

“Teachers selected the books that they thought the kids would enjoy because we wanted to build literacy and develop that love for reading. And so we get books in Spanish, if you need it. One year, we had to get books in Punjabi. This year we have books in Chinese. So we do a lot of different things to make sure all cultures are celebrated and recognized.” - Melanie Sembritski

Read the complete transcript of this episode here.

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Kelsi Iturralde is a 2nd grade teacher at Kingsbury Elementary Charter School District in CA. This is her seventh year teaching in the district, and she is also PLC lead for her team. Fun fact- she actually attended the school where she now works!

The 2021- 2022 school year marks Melanie Sembritski’s 35th year in education. The last 28 have been spent serving the students of Kingsburg, California. For the past 35 years, Melanie had the honor and privilege of working in a profession that she has loved since day one.  Serving as a teacher, principal, and now assistant superintendent in charge of curriculum and instruction, and state and federal programs, it has been her goal to ensure all students receive a high quality education. Thinking back to her teaching days, Melanie feels like she can remember all of the students she taught because of the impression they had upon her. They taught her that every child matters and that there are no limits we should place on the importance of reaching every one of them.

Wesley Sever, Ed.D., is serving his 9th year as the Superintendent of Kingsburg Elementary Charter School District.  He received his B.A. degree in Psychology, a minor in Spanish, a Master’s in Educational Leadership from California University, Fresno, and finished his Doctorate in Education from the Joint Doctoral Program with the University of California, Davis and Fresno State University in Educational Leadership. Dr. Sever is also currently serving as an advisor to the State Board of Education on the Advisory Commission on Charter Schools (ACCS), as well as a member of the Fiscal Crisis and Management Support Team (FCMAT) Board. Dr. Sever began his experiences as a Bilingual Spanish Tutor in Fresno Unified.  After that experience, he decided to become a teacher(BCLAD) and taught 4th, 7th and 8th grades before becoming an administrator.