Guided Reading

Not Afraid to Fail Forward

 //  Jul 24, 2019

Not Afraid to Fail Forward

My school, Mary Belle McCorkle in Tucson, Arizona, is known for project-based learning (PBL) and technology. Our passion has been to build authentic projects and to provide learning opportunities for students in different modalities. At one point, our school was known only for PBL, until author Jan Richardson came into our lives.

Two years ago, our district discovered and brought in Jan’s framework for guided reading. Lead classroom teachers were selected at each site to take on the role of learning guided reading the Jan Richardson way! These lead teachers attended training throughout the year to be able to take what they learned and show our staff how guided reading should be done, using Jan Richardson’s The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading as a guidepost. Needless to say, it was easier said than done to turn our lessons learned into a reality.

Continuing our day-to-day roles as classroom teachers while implementing guided reading, and finding ways to show our staff how to do guided reading was, to say the least, very challenging. We failed over and over again. The push back, the lack of support, and trying to get the teachers’ buy in was a bust. The first year was characterized by grey hairs.

I expressed my concerns to my principal. She explained to me that we can fail forward and not be afraid of it. We have to build capacity for something great, and that takes time. During the second year of our guided reading implementation, I was hired to be our data specialist and interventionist—a plan my principal had all along! The best part was, I was able to focus solely on guided reading and teacher support for K–3.

In this new role, I was able to sit and plan with the teachers, model guided reading, observe during their guided reading instruction, and give immediate feedback. Before my team implemented our initiative and the full roll-out of guided reading across the school, we had to fill all teachers in on our plan.

To do so, our school set up weekly meetings called PLCs (professional learning communities). During a PLC, students were taken to enrichment classes while teachers met with both myself and our curriculum service provider. Teachers learned how to group students, analyze data, write lesson plans, and provide strategic action for our youngest readers.

These PLCs also provided an opportunity for us to dive deeper into Jan Richardson’s teachings. We purchased The Next Step Forward—our guided reading “Bible”—for all K–3 staff and used close reading strategies to dig deeper into the book. We showed videos with self-reflection and outlined next step actions. Teachers were able to take what they learned and implement it in their own classrooms. Finally, we took our PLCs to observe guided reading within the school, to see how it is done in real-time!

We collected student data from the beginning of the year to the end and the growth was phenomenal. We had several students move up an average of 6–10 reading levels, maybe even more. Teachers were feeling confident, the students were enjoying reading, and others were seeing the great work our elementary students were doing. After seeing these results, our district’s middle school also wanted to jump on the guided reading band wagon.

During the second semester, we were able to bring middle school on board, providing them with an all-day PD session to learn the ins and outs of guided reading. They also had the opportunity to observe guided reading in the K–3 classroom. Middle school took off with this approach to guided reading instruction, and we hope to make the program even stronger this coming school year.

Our takeaway from all of this: It’s ok to fail forward and learn as we go. Yes, we had previously attended trainings and we were taught how to implement guided reading. The one thing missing was that we were never shown or given the time to implement guided reading. To make this work, we found that regular check-ins, support, guidance, weekly PLCs, observations, and dedicated time are what the teachers really needed. We still have a long way to go, but we are getting there, and we are not afraid to fail forward.

Images courtesy of Leticia Madril