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Are Classroom Reading Groups the Best Way to Teach Reading? Maybe Not.

DS Professional Development Specialist and veteran teacher, Sarah Galligher reflects on a recent EdWeek article.

Have you finished your benchmark assessments? Tis the season to be thinking about the creation of reading groups. As a teacher, I would be so excited for my first visit to the bookroom of the year. Finding leveled texts for each of my reading groups felt so strategic and I couldn’t wait to get down to the work of reading. However, in my weekly reading of published works I came across an article bringing to light the downside of leveled reading groups. I had to read it twice! This cannot be. In one forthcoming study, Marshall Jean, a research fellow at the Northwestern University Institute for Policy Research, tracked nearly 12,000 students from kindergarten through 3rd grade in more than 2,100 schools, following them through high, middle, and low reading groups or ungrouped reading classes.  The study found that none of the students initially placed in the lowest kindergarten group ever caught up to the reading level of their classmates who had started out in the highest reading group. "The structural inertia is considerable," Jean noted, finding that having been in the highest reading group in an earlier grade tended to protect students from being put in a lower group later, even with significantly lower scores. What does this mean for reading groups going forward?

One California program has shown promise in making reading groups more flexible and less stigmatizing. The suggestion is for teachers to give a diagnostic assessment to all students every eight weeks to identify strengths and weaknesses in particular reading skills in four areas of literacy: decoding, fluency, comprehension, and usage. So, fret not my educator friends, reading groups are still a powerful teaching strategy. Thinking differently about how we group and the frequency is the key to making this tried and true strategy a success. For more information on this topic, visit: