Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Book Study: "Teaching Reading in Small Groups"

Readers, I have been bitten by the Book Study worm this summer and it feels FANTASTIC!
One very special recommendation popped up at the iTeach First conference last month in Vegas.  
Jennifer Serravallo
Her name: Jennifer Serravallo.  Her specialty?  Strategic teaching in small groups and delivering top-notch conferring tips to our youngest of readers.  Sounds awesome, doesn't it!?!
After prepping my reading area and getting in my comfy zone, I dove into the book and read it- in it's entirety-in 4 hours!
I found myself nodding yes, and shouting out, "Oh Yeah!" every few minutes!  Jennifer has delivered a master piece on small groups, which of course is not the same as guided reading...
Chapter 1 begins with her push of getting past traditional reading groups and guided reading.  She revolves her thinking around small group instruction with a key focus on "The Five Tenets"
*match the individual reader
*teach toward independence
*teach strategies explicitly so that readers become proficient and skilled
*value time spent, volume, and variety of reading
*follow predictable structures and routines

In Guided Reading, students are:
*practicing reading at their instructional level
*practice in a text selected by teacher
*structure includes book introduction, reading with coaching, and teaching point(s) or discussion.

In Strategy Lessons, students are:
*practicing at their independent reading level
*practice reading in a text self-selected by student
*structure includes connection, explicit teaching, active engagement, and a link to students' reading.

Chapter 2 explores the formation of small groups and making the invisible VISIBLE through assessment.  Jennifer reminds us that what happens inside a student's head (invisible) needs to be brought into the light and made visible through multiple assessments at the beginning of the year.  Her assessments include:

*Assessing ENGAGEMENT through engagement inventories, book logs, and reading interest surveys.
*Assessing FLUENCY through shared reading, running records, individual conferences, and partnerships/clubs.
*Assessing PRINT WORK STRATEGIES through running records and individual conferences.
*Assessing COMPREHENSION through reading portfolios, writing about reading, conversations about books, minilesson active involvements, and individual conferences 
*Assessing CONVERSATION through whole-class conversations, partnerships, and clubs.

Chapter 3 is all about ENGAGEMENT and helping children WANT to read.  Jennifer gives practical examples on:
*The Urgency of the Engagement Problem
*Mentoring Readers into Developing a Reading Identity
*Talking UP Books in Clubs
*Small Groups to Self-Monitor and Fix Up Disengagement
*Self-Assigning Reading Goals for Purposeful Reading
*Sign Up Seminars to Energize Learners

Chapter 4 is using Guided Practice Towards Independence.  This is where Jennifer answers WHY Strategy Lessons are so important to teaching reading in small groups.  She provides a structure for her strategy lessons:
1. Connect & Compliment: Tell the children why they've been pulled together, reinforce a strength, and state the strategy for today's lesson.
2. Teach: Provide a brief demonstration, shared practice, example, or explanation.
3. Engage: Coach the students in their own self-selected independent reading books, or, when you're not sure their book will provide an opportunity to practice the strategy, prepare a text for them.
4. Link: Invite students to continue working independently, applying and reapplying the strategy practiced in new contexts.

I love page 106, Figure 4.3 on how Jennifer decides HOW MUCH SUPPORT to give each reader prior to practicing with coaching.
Degrees of Support:
*Lean (state the strategy only)
*Medium (provide explanation/example of strategy)
*Medium-Heavy (practice strategy together on shared text)
*Heavy (offer a demonstration of the strategy with think-aloud)

On page 113, Figure 4.4 BLEW my mind!  Jennifer compares strategies with reading tips.  I totally changed my thinking after reading over these!  For example:
The Skill: Visualizing
The Strategy: Read what the text says.  Imagine yourself to be in the place. Use what you're experiencing, including all of your senses, to add your mental picture.
NOT a strategy:  "Picture the place"  

Chapter 5 dives into "Talking about Books" and improving partnerships and clubs.  Jennifer values and supports book clubs and partnerships.  How can we make our youngest readers more responsible for their learning? Jennifer suggests creating menus for each partnership that can be added to as children learn new activities.  (I envision many of the Read to Someone bookmarks and prompting task cards that I use during Daily 5 would work great in this section).  

Next in Chapter 6, Jennifer unveils Reading with Fluency and Expression using Shared Reading, Warm-Up and Transfer Groups and Performance Clubs.  I was immediately interested in performance clubs so here's what I learned: Kids need to be singing and reading poetry every day.  Tim Rasinski was sited in her research as challenging teachers to make Fluency a priority in our classrooms.  I don't know about you, but if Tim says I need to do it, consider it DONE!  Jennifer provides these tips for creating Performance Clubs in the classroom:
*Choose a highly engaging text-a song or poem-that will motivate the children to want to read-reread-practice and perform.
*"Sell" the club to the group members in a way that makes it feel exclusive and special.
*Start the week with a shared reading club and give each reader his own individual copy.
*Encourage the children to practice all week: to warm up before independent reading, to take a break from independent reading, and to practice at home with an audience of family.
*End the week with a brief PERFORMANCE, allow the other children in class to celebrate the group's hard work!

Now onto Chapter 7.  Jennifer plows through the nitty-gritty of getting to know leveled books, getting to know your readers in each book level, and how to use, what she calls,  text-level 
introduction groups as an alternative to guided reading.
Text-Level Introductions Groups:
*Children get to choose their own books.
*Children are grouped because they are all working to move to the same new level.
*The teacher doesn't introduce a book-the teacher introduces text difficulties.
*The teacher gives strategic support to the readers for text difficulties. 
*The group follows the "connect and compliment, teach, engage, link" structure.
*A child should keep texts at their "old" level and the one book that was practiced in the group to work on that week. More group work is often necessary before a child is secure in the new level.

Jennifer also created a "strategy menu" for each book level to guide her explicit strategy instruction within each small group.  Friends, this menu is FABULOUS!  If you have this book, check out Figure 7.4.  Dreamy, isn't it?!

Finally, we reach Chapter 8 which gives readers a tour of how Jennifer organizes and manages small-group conferring.
Her four common pillars of success are:
1. Reading Workshop Basics
2. Visualizing the Room
3. Keeping Track
4. Scheduling Yourself

In Jennifer's second grade reading workshop model (page 205 Figure 8.1) her daily schedule  looks like:
Minilesson     (7 minutes)
Read Alone   (15 minutes)
Partnership    (10 minutes)
Read Alone   (15 minutes)
Share             (5 minutes)
Food for thought, isn't it?
Jennifer's conferring notes and student reflections are much like what I use from The CAFE conferring sheets.  I was poking my husband at this point saying, "I'm doing it right!"

My Reflections:
This was a terrific book from a fresh new author that gave me a ton to think about.  I think the book can be interpreted easily by any primary or intermediate teacher.  Some areas of the text waver towards intermediate but I think us primary teachers KNOW how to mold and craft new learning into our classrooms to make it work for us and our littles!  I just added this newbie to my Amazon cart!
My favorite take away from Jen's book was her chapter on 
Is it real or are they "faking it?"
Students only fake it when they do not have the skills to immerse themselves in a good-fit book.
I created two interest surveys that I plan on using the first week back to school.  Hopefully, this will allow me the opportunity to reflect on each student's level of interest and give me that "peek inside" of how they "see" their own learning styles.
Interested?  Click on the image below to grab your copy!
Time for your Feedback.  Please.  
How did you like this Book Study Chat?  Shall I keep going and investigate a new topic?  Please share your suggestions in the comments below.

Happy Learning,


  1. Thank you for the book review. I have Jennifer's Reading Strategies Book. It is wonderful! I will have to check out the small group one. There is a book study going on right now on Mondays and Wednesdays for the reading strategies book. You can find info on the Literacy Loving Gals blog.

    1. Thanks so much for the lovely feedback! I will definitely check out the Book Study over at Literacy Loving Gals!

  2. I have this book on my "to read" list. After reading your post, I wish I already had the book in my possession! I recently read Jennifer's book, The Literacy Teacher's Playbook, K-2 and loved it. She informs and confirms my teaching at the same time! I am looking forward to implementing my "take-aways" from the book when school starts. Thank you for sharing! And, yes keep reading and posting your thoughts!

    1. Julie, Thank you so much for commenting and sharing! I think we both will be off to a great start this school year with all this new and fabulous information we've learned from Jennifer!

  3. Will have to order this ASAP. Thanks for sharing. Excellent review. Please, please keep reading and sharing.

  4. Will have to order this ASAP. Thanks for sharing. Excellent review. Please, please keep reading and sharing.

  5. I just bought the Reading Strategies book. Can't wait for it to get here, and now I've added another book to my list! Thanks for the interest survey, too Sara

    1. Sara, you are so VERY welcome! Have a great start to your school year!

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