Guided Reading and Skype – A Virtual Book Club

So here is a very belated follow up to my original Guided Reading post as well as a continuation to Stephen Connor’s post.

As the post is quite long there are some navigation bits here so you can skip to what you want:
Introduction, The Plan, First Group, What did the children think?, The Stats, Round Two, Next Steps


I guess it was sometime before October half term Stephen and I were chatting away about approaches to Guided Reading and trying to encourage the children to have discussions about texts rather than just the question/answer format that we so regularly see in schools. This moved us on to the idea of a book group, just like many adults attend, where children read texts, questions characters motives, authors choices and much more free and open to discuss their opinions. However, to add that final piece of sincerity, book groups only tend to meet once a week and in the meantime you have time to read, reflect and form opinions before sharing them at your meeting. This is challenging to create in a classroom where the children see each other for several hours every week day. What about if we used Skype to connect a reading group in my class to a reading group in Stephen’s class? That might work…

The Plan

The idea was formed and then we had to work out the practicalities. We spoke to SLT about it and mine specified he wanted me to be running the group, not my TA (even more challenging from a timetabling perspective), Stephen’s head was also keen. Timetabling was a nightmare! Stephen did Guided Reading in the morning, we were in assembly. We did it after lunch, that was half way through Stephen’s afternoon. We considered doing it at lunchtime as something the children chose to do cross-curricularly and guess what? Nope lunchtime wasn’t at the same time either! Luckily, we are both determined people and eventually did find a solution – Friday afternoons for about 20 minutes – that was the plan, in reality it’s generally 30 minutes.

Now we had the time, what about the children? Did we have the same children each week? Or different ones? What ability? Boys or girls? Mixed everything? Do we stick to the ones we know will be confident speakers or try and bring out those who are more shy in class? From an organisation perspective, it would help us for the rest of the week/half term to have fixed group of children who participate each week. For an ability we wanted a mid-high group, as we’re both year 5 classes that meant around 3A/4C. We chose these as the lower achieving children tended to get more support anyway and we weren’t sure that the benefits of Skype would turn out as we’d hoped. We went for 50/50 boys and girls, mostly just to keep things fair and then myself and Stephen chose the personalities and confidence levels based on those we thought would work well as a group. I had 2 quieter members of my class who I hoped to bring out through this opportunity, a couple who were on track but seemed to have plateaued and 2 who I thought would fit nicely with the other children, levels etc. I will say that I did speak to them all first and asked them if they wanted to participate – it was not forced upon them!

Now we had the time and the group, what about the book? To make things easier we all needed to be reading the same book. My own class’ Guided Reading books are rather dated and uninspiring but luckily I have a supportive SLT who agreed to purchase a set for the Skype group so we chose from Stephen’s selection and then I obtained a copy. We obviously needed a book that was roughly the right level, some vocab the children wouldn’t know, but enough that they would be able to understand. I am on a big push this year to introduce the children to new authors so I also wanted a book from an author we hadn’t looked at previously. We settled on trying Clockwork by Philip Pullman.

In terms of the format we didn’t really plan exactly how we’d manage it. We knew each week they’d have to read up to a certain page and then discuss what’s happened but the ‘discuss what’s happened’ aspect was left deliberately vague to see where the children would like to take it.

First Group

The first session was a couple of weeks after October half term and was really just an introduction. They ‘met’ each other, looked at the book, discussed what it might be about. Questioned each other about the fact that Stephen’s school weren’t in school uniform (it was some sort of charity day) and were slightly disappointed that we all sounded pretty much the same (no, really, our schools are not that far apart!) it was a nice way to start and get acquainted and we decided that the children would try to write their own text-based questions for the following week.

After this the children became more and more confident around each other, asking questions and sharing the book. We would contribute if necessary but mostly left the children to it was some minor prompts and suggestions. You can hear a recording from one of our conversations here:

WARNING: if you haven’t and have an interest in reading Clockwork then there will be some spoilers in here as the children are nearing the end of the book at this point.

After a few weeks the children wanted other opportunities to continue discussions about the book between meetings. We started using Padlet walls embedded on blogs and encouraging their discussion this way. You can see their Padlet here. They were definitely hooked.

By Christmas we were coming to the end of Clockwork and our first dabble into Guided Reading and Skype. The children had loved it and we thought it was having a positive impact on their reading so we decided to try a new group of children in the new year.

What did the children think?

As always with this kind of thing I did a Socrative to ask the children how they’d found it. Here are some of the responses from both classes:

  • All thought using Skype for reading had helped their learning, here are some examples of why:

I think it improved my reading because we didn’t just get to read we got to do questions which we got to see other people’s point of view.

I think that Skype has been really good because we get other explanations and reasons why from Nottingham!We loved talking yo the other children on the other side!

  • All thought that Skype has made them enjoy reading more. Here’s why:

I do because it is exciting how you can talk to other people and read with each other

Yes, because I’m not just reading with people from my class that I know but i actually get to read with different people that are not from Milton Keynes.

  • What skills have you learned through doing Guided Reading this way?

I think the skills are working more and faster then you normally do because you have to think up questions and basically think a lot more.

I have learnt how to think of good questions from getting other peoples ideas and changing them again.

I think I have learnt how to communicate with others better

  • All but one didn’t think Skype had been a distraction

No because it is just to help with your reading skills and how to communicate with others it is also just like a normal lesson.

I think for people who mess around a lot of the times they would get very distracted and when we were doing skype we all got a bit distracted.

  • How/why has Guided Reading affected Skype for you

It affected my reading in a good way because it helps me to answer questions

It has affected my way of answering questions and listening to other ideas and making them even better.

  • Everyone felt they would recommend it apart from one who was 50/50

I would recommend it to people who are sensible and brave enough to talk to new people

I would recommend this to other reading groups because it’s fun to do and listen to other peoples ideas and it’s help me learn a lot.

50/50 because they might have no idea what we are on about.

The Stats

Around February time in my school we did a PiRA reading test which is how we measure reading progress across school. I compared the results the children achieved on the same style test just before October half term by changing them into APS. The results were very positive.

NB: I refer to one child as ‘Child A’ as I hesitate about including his data as for 3 of the 6 weeks we Skyped he was in Florida and so the impact is going to be less.

I worked out my average class points score from the October PiRA was 25.63 points. If we just look at the data from the 6 children their average points score was 24.67 including Child A and 24.2 without. As you can see though, both numbers for these children are at least a point below the average for my class. In fact, if you take them out of the average, i.e. work out the average points scored minus the 5 Skype children you get 25.89 – so these children were in effect dragging the average down!

Now if I look at my average class point score for the February PiRA it’s 27.75 points. For the 5 children (not including Child A) the average point score was 27.8, ever so slightly higher than the class average. This time the class data without these children is 27.74 – much closer than it was before,

Finally, If I compare the points each child earned in October to February and I get an average increase of 2.13 points for the class. The class without the Skype group made average increase of 1.85 points on their scores from October and the 5 in the Skype group made an average increase of 3.33 points progress compared to their October levels.

Now obviously with any stats there could be a number of reasons for this including that the children just weren’t ready to progress before and this term something has clicked and they’re on their way but I think it is interesting all the same!

Round Two

This time we focused on those who had perhaps not made as much progress as they should have up to now. The text this time was Stig of the Dump but other than that we didn’t want to change the format too much.

Firstly, there were some unavoidable differences this time. For one reason or another there have been several weeks we’ve had to miss. This was due to one of our schools doing something different which meant we weren’t able to Skype or one of us being out on a course for the day or different timed holidays. Whatever the reason this run has been a lot more ‘bitty’ than the last.

We began as last time introducing ourselves sharing the book and what we thought. As a class my class now use Edmodo during Guided Reading (and beyond) to discuss texts they’ve been reading with each other so this is something we introduced as well. If you have not used Edmodo it is a bit like Facebook for kids, except the groups are closed and an admin can monitor posts. I am hoping to write a specific blogpost for how I used Edmodo in the classroom soon – watch this space. It gives the children a safe and private place to discuss the text with each other.

Overall, I don’t think mine are as ‘into’ it as we saw last time. Whether that’s because I didn’t choose as appropriate children in terms of motivated and communicative, or the book, I’m not sure? I spoke to Stephen about it and we both agreed that we had chosen two or three quieter ones. With me, the boys just seem a little less join-y. They’re fine when you talk to them 1:1 but obviously haven’t fit as well to the Skype group.

I decided to do some pre-teaching with my boys as when I asked them about it they said they weren’t great at thinking on their feet. To give them some structured time I set up Reciprocal Reading with the Skype group for the day prior to our reading session. (There should also be a blogpost coming about this in the near future!) This would give them a chance, as a group, to share their ideas and have the discussions, raising interesting points in a familiar group before venturing to the Skype group. So far this seems to be making a difference although the boys do admit to sometimes losing focus when the group is working without an adult.

I think the chapters in Stig of the Dump being long may also gave had an impact as we spend a lot more time within the week reading, rather than reflecting/discussing the text. I think the children have also found this hard work which has made them disengage from the text. One of my boys regularly asks to spend more time reading with the other children rather than discussing. When I ask him why he wants to do that he says he prefers that to talking about books but can’t explain why. I’m pretty sure it’s because he finds the reading easier than the discussion!

Thinking back, Stephen suggested that the last book was much shorter too, and the level of the children was higher, so it could be expected that that they would be more conversational. Last time was more back and forth, we did ask the children to create their own questions but they used a question and built on it whereas this group were a lot more closed. However, the use of Edmodo is giving them a chance to think about responses before being forced to reply which may bridge that void.

Next Steps

With all of the above in mind, we have decided to keep the same children for a second half term. This time we are trying Anne Fine’s Flour Babies as it’s not too long, has a mixture of humour and serious and there should be some strong themes to discuss. We’ll see how this one turns out!

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