Guided Reading's 20th Anniversary

With publication of a second edition of the seminal Fountas and Pinnell text come new insights into Guided Reading.

20 Years of Teaching Children to Read for a Lifetime of Enjoyment and Opportunity

2016 brought the publication of the second edition of Guided Reading, a seminal text that revolutionized the way children are taught reading throughout the United States. In the new edition, authors Irene Fountas—a Lesley professor—and Gay Su Pinnell use 20 years of insight and experience observing classrooms, trying new techniques, and talking with a variety of experts to remind and inform their readers of guided reading’s essential elements and its significant place in literacy learning.

In addition to a deeper understanding of guided reading's complexity and implementation, the new edition focuses on the concept of responsive teaching, “those moment-to-moment decisions that teachers make as they observe and analyze their students’ behaviors,” which then lead to more support for readers. Responsive teaching, they say, sends students a powerful message: "Reading is thinking."

The guided reading concept was originally developed by Marie Clay and others in New Zealand in the 1960s, and was developed further in the US by Fountas and Pinnell. With guided reading, teachers work with small groups of students whom they have assessed to be reading at similar levels, providing them with level-appropriate books and problem-solving guidance. In the process, they both nurture and promote the skills the child already has and challenge the child to advance to increasingly complex texts.

Further goals of guided reading include providing opportunities for children to problem solve, read for meaning, expand knowledge, and think deeply about the world they meet in books: in short, to become lifelong readers. 

Choosing books that are just right: leveled books match texts to readers

Guided reading teachers use leveled books, texts that have been analyzed and leveled from easiest to hardest (A-Z, or kindergarten through high school), giving them a place to start when choosing books. To level books, experts use a system of ten text characteristics:

  • genre
  • structure
  • content
  • themes/ideas
  • language/literary features
  • sentence complexity
  • vocabulary
  • words
  • illustrations
  • book and print features

Leveled books make guided reading instruction effective by reinforcing what children know and challenging them to higher levels of proficiency. As they progress, children are then grouped and regrouped in a dynamic and fluid process that involves the teacher's ongoing observation and assessment of each student.

teacher reading to elementary students

Text Levels—Tool or Trouble?

We did not intend for levels to become a label for children that would take us back to the days of the bluebirds and the blackbirds [more rigid grouping labels of the past]...our intention was to put the tool in the hands of educators who understood their characteristics and used it to select appropriate books for differentiated instruction.

How are books leveled? Each summer, literacy experts come to Lesley to level books in the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative. The Center houses the original Fountas and Pinnell Leveled Book Collection, which includes over 50,000 books that have been leveled over the past 20 years. Fountas and Pinnell have also catalogued the books on their leveled books website, which keeps a current list that is updated monthly.

Following are examples of books and their levels:

  • Level C (kindergarten): A Visit from Aunt Bee  by Ida Stevens
  • Level G (grade 1): Earthmovers  by Linda D. Williams
  • Level J (grade 1): Henry and Mudge The First Book  by Cynthia Rylant
  • Level K (grade 2): Frog and Toad Are Friends  by Arnold Lobel
  • Level N (grade 3): Anacondas: On the Hunt by Lori Polydoros
  • Level P (grade 3): The Magic School Bus: Lost in the Solar System by Joanna Cole
  • Level R (grade 4): The Story of Amy Johnson: Pioneering Woman Aviator by Janet Stott-Thornton
  • Level V (grade 5): To Catch a Con by Penza Hawke
  • Level Y (grade 6): Spies and Codebreakers  by Claire Throp
  • Level Z+ (high school/adult): American Born Chinese  by Gene Luen Yang

Fountas says, "Our children rely on teacher expertise to assure they become readers. With guided reading, teachers can meet children where they are and bring them to successful levels of proficiency.

Every child deserves to grow up literate in our schools."

Fountas, I. & Pinnell, G. (2016). Guided reading: responsive teaching across the grades. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. 
Fountas, I.C. & Pinnell, G.S. (2016). The Fountas & Pinnell Literacy Continuum: A tool for assessment, planning, and teaching, expanded edition. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. 
Pinnell, G.S. & Fountas, I.C. (2012). Leveled Books, K-8: Matching Texts to Readers for Effective Teaching. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

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