You have organized your classroom, assessed your students, and formed your initial guided reading groups. Now it's time to teach! You've planned your learning tasks to hair-splitting detail. But are you prepared for when your students shift your instruction down a different path? Effective teaching requires your ability to observe your students and then turn your instruction in the direction your readers or writers take you, even if it wasn't planned. This is called responsive teaching.
No matter how well you plan and structure learning tasks, it is the one-on-one interactions that inform the power and effectiveness in your teaching. The key to effective teaching is your ability to make different decisions for different students at different times. You want to teach the child, not the book or program.
Use Observation and Assessment to Inform Teaching Decisions
Responsive teaching is the moment-to-moment decisions that you make as you observe and analyze your students' behaviors. It is the observation and analysis of the students' reading behaviors that informs your next teaching moves. It's up to you to know the readers through observation. Those observations will inform you as to what books to select and what teaching decisions to make. In Guided Reading: Responsive Teaching Across the Grades, Second Edition, Fountas and Pinnell have directed much of their focus toward responsive teaching. You will find a specific process you can use to gather student data, analyze it, and use it to set up a successful context within which you can teach successfully. The Fountas & Pinnell Literacy Continuum is also a powerful tool to plan for, guide, and assess teaching.
Hone Your Teacher Language
Responsive teaching requires your continual attention and reflection on your students' observable behaviors and the effects of your teaching decisions on their learning. One important element is the language you use to respond to the learner.
"Over the years, we have grown in our realization that teacher language is all-important in responsive teaching. We want our statements, prompts, and questions to be as clear and precise as possible." ~Fountas and Pinnell
Fountas and Pinnell have developed a number of tools that will help you hone your language until it becomes internalized and you don't need to refer to the tools anymore. These tools include: The Fountas & Pinnell Literacy Continuum; Prompting Guide Part 1 for Oral Reading and Early Writing; Prompting Guide Part 2 for Comprehension; Genre Prompting Guide for Fiction; and Genre Prompting Guide for Nonfiction, Poetry, and Test Taking.
Use High-Quality Texts
In order to help students fall in love with reading, give them books they want to read. Students need access to a wide range of topics, themes, genres, and forms, as they participate in interactive read-aloud, shared reading, guided reading, book clubs, and independent reading. When students encounter responsive teaching in all literacy contexts, they get a powerful message: Reading is thinking. But building a high-quality text collection doesn't happen overnight. Fountas and Pinnell provide suggestions in Guided Reading, Second Edition on how to develop a rich text base over time to support literacy.
The responsive teacher provides differentiated instruction to meet the needs of each student. He observes readers and writers very carefully, weaving a valuable set of understandings about each. Then, in a continuously evolving process, he tailors his precise responses to the readers’ strengths and needs. To learn more how you can engage in responsive teaching that supports continued growth of your students, pick up a copy of Guided Reading, Second Edition.
~The Fountas & Pinnell Literacy™ Team
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