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Deedee Wills - Mrs. Wills Kindergarten

Science of Reading – Is Guided Reading Dead?

Deedee and Adam discuss the Science of Reading and how it affects leveled texts in kindergarten and first grade.  Many teachers continue to use guided reading as part of their small group instruction or intervention instruction.
Deedee and Adam chat about the texts we select to use in our classrooms. They offer tweaks to instruction that will help teachers align their practices closer to the ideals outlined with structured literacy.
During our discussion, we discussed decodable chapter books.  Here is a link to her Amazon storefront where you can find these decodable books:

Science or Reading Guided Reading… is it bad?  Podcast Transcripts


Adam Peterson  0:03 

Hey everybody. Welcome back to The Classroom Collaborative podcast. I am Adam Peterson.


Deedee Wills  0:08 

And I am completely thrilled to be looking at your face because I’m Deedee Wills, and we haven’t talked to each other forever.


Adam Peterson  0:15 

It’s been months maybe yeah, I don’t know. It’s crazy. I started a new position with my amazing friends at a live studio doing some work. I know you’ve been all around the country in your trailer doing… that sounds terrible in your trailer.


Deedee Wills  0:32 

A bad joke, I am good.


Adam Peterson  0:33 

It’s awesome, though. So we decided to come back put this back together. Hopefully, knock on wood, get back on a schedule here and start giving you guys some more stuff as we finish out 2021 heading to the new year. But one of the hot topics this year, in all of the education has been the science of reading. I know, It’s been building and building and building and building and it seems to be the only thing you hear when you Google search, like guided reading or reading or anything. So we both, Deedee more you than me get questions all the time on your Facebook group or through emails but I’ve actually been out doing some conferences again like it’s been amazing to be on the road.


Deedee Wills  1:15 



Adam Peterson  1:16 

Teachers keep bringing it up and I’m not an expert in any of that. I haven’t studied it as you have. I haven’t really had the experience with it cuz my classroom I’m working with pre-K kiddos mostly. So we’re not really getting into a lot of quote-unquote, reading groups, or guided reading. I’m usually doing one on one type of stuff. I know that you and I had talked and one of the big questions is where are we going? What’s next? What do we do?


Deedee Wills  1:43 

So one of the things that I get asked a lot, and then I know that you know I experienced as well is what you know… I am pointing to myself right now. Some of us have had extensive training done in guided reading practices in a balanced literacy classroom. So our feet are kind of really comfortable there and in the last couple of years, having to make that shift, not having to make the shift, but obviously needing to make that shift to more of a science of reading approach to instruction. So a question that I get, and we talked a little bit about this as well is guided reading dead, is that no longer something that we do in our classroom?  Is there a place in our classroom for level text?  What do we do now?


First of all, most people who are listening to kindergarten, first grade, second-grade teachers who are with us right now. So what best practices say is that in our classrooms, for k one, two students should be spending, I’m going to say the first part of second grade, spending most of their time in decodable texts, 70 to 80% of their time to decodable text. And so those are texts that are given to students in which they have a foundation of phonics behind them so that they can be decoded. About 70, 80 90, depending on who you listen to, 90% of those words are words that are decodable. So we’re having a lot of CVC words that have a phonics-based background behind them.


So with 70 to 80% of the time when we’re in those types of texts. What do we do with the rest of the text? Like, how do we use it? Can we still use our guided reading books? Is there a place for them? Well, first of all, our whole world is filled with level text. I mean, we listen to chrysanthemum. That’s not a decodable text, that’s a level text. We have students looking through a big book. They’re revisiting a story. They’re picking up  Henry and Mudge, those are not decodable texts, those are texts that are put on a leveling system. There are lots of different leveling systems out there. There’s a lot of Fountas and Pinnell, there’s a Lexile, there’s lots and lots of great literature. I have a whole list of books behind me, picture books that are out there. Those books are level text. So do we, as teachers say, no, you can’t look at those books until you’re in the middle of second grade. No, we want to make sure students have access to these texts but what we need to do is use those texts in a different way.


If you were talking to 2000, let’s say 2015 Deedee Wills, our conversation would be very different. I would say you would assess your students based on a leveling test system and see where their point of difficulty is. And then that becomes our instructional level. And then we want to give students lots of opportunities to experience texts at that instructional level, so maybe that’s a level 12, maybe it’s a 14, and kindergarten might be a level two or three texts, maybe a level four text or in Fountas and Pinnell, they’re leveled with letters like an A, B, C, D text. So now 2021, almost 2022.


Adam Peterson  5:26 

I just had to write dates on something for like a schedule coming up for the next year. I had to write 122. Like that can’t be right like what is going on?


Deedee Wills  5:38 

I’m having a really hard time. I don’t know why 2021 was easy, but 2022 feels like it’s completely foreign.


Adam Peterson  5:46 

I don’t think anybody knew 2021 was here, the last two years have just flown together so much like, you know what I mean, like I don’t think it was a big job.


Deedee Wills  5:53 

And maybe a lot of people thought that maybe 2022 was never going to happen. I don’t know. That was me but that’s not going to happen, the world will come to an end before we get there. Anyhow, when I think of a level text, I do believe that there is a place for students to have those books. It might be your guided reading books that you’ve used before in small group instruction, maybe you incorporate a book in your small group, that’s still level text. But we want to think about the queuing system. So we have to make a shift or a change in the way that we ask students to do some word attack skills than what we used to do before.


Let’s say 2015, Deedee would have said, when a student came to a point of difficulty, I would say, well, look at the picture, does that help you? get your mouth ready, say the first word, there were all these different cueing systems with what would make sense there that we would be using for students so that they could attack that word and come up with what it means. What we have found out since is that not we, what I have found out, some people knew this a long time ago. But what I have found out is what that’s doing is encouraging students to guess and that is a great strategy that works wonderful for students when the pictures are really clear, and there’s lots of support, and the sentences aren’t complex. There’s not a lot of adjectives, there’s not a lot of adverbs that changed the meaning of the sentence. But when we get to second and third grade, it falls apart. And that’s why we have comprehension issues in second and third grade.


So zoop, we don’t want to do that anymore. But what we can do with those level texts is draw our attention back to the text. So the first cue that we give them is let’s take a look at this word and let’s see if we can draw attention to the phonics support within that word. So would we want to use guided reading and kindergarten guided reading level text as a staple in our classroom? I would say no, I would argue no. We don’t want to do that. However, giving them a book from time to time that is a level text is going to be okay, as long as we get rid of those old cueing systems because they’re encouraging behaviors in reading, that look like reading, but they’re really not and it’s going to fall apart for some students when they get to second and third grade.


Some students are going to be able to figure this code out. There’s a probably a good, well, I’m going to say probably 60% of the population, who will be able to become proficient readers in the old way because when we look at the statistics on proficient readers in third, fourth grade, we have 40% of the students who were not able to read at grade level. So I’m assuming that 60% are, so 60% of the students are able to figure that out. They’re going to be fine, they going to move along but 40% of your population, who are not going to be able to be proficient are going to fail and within that 40% there’s going to be probably 25% of those students who have a language-based learning difficulty, and so they’re really going to fall apart. Does that make sense?


Adam Peterson  9:14 

Totally does. I love you when you brought up guided readers and teachers like oh, my gosh, the whole evidence that was one of the comments. I kept reading quite a bit when people are like, we’re going science reading. We’re going science reading our school, we’re getting this training, and it seemed like there was a lot of negativity, like when we saw Common Core Come Out people were bashing left and with this. I didn’t want to say negative, the only thing I saw was, oh my gosh, just got this whole new set of books. Now, what am I going to do with them?


Well, my thought was, you’re not taking away libraries from kids. Kids still go pick out books based on interest and what’s on there. Just put those in your classroom library. Let them be books that are there for interest but one thing I will say about this whole decodable transition and using that as the standpoint is I’ve had, not experienced on my own students, but Trisha teach a second grade and she bought some decodable chapter books for her students. She’s like, these are the coolest thing in the world, like her kids sort of flocking to them. And one of her most struggling learners in all areas, not just reading, but one of her students is there because she’s in that class for a reason, and is just thriving with it right now. And not even just with those books. But Trisha said her confidence in reading other things is grown. I think that’s the thing we remember. This is about confidence. It’s about creating somebody that wants to do it, right like we could teach kids to read all day long. But until we instill in them that this is something fun, and there’s something to learn from it and it’s engaging, and your confidence can build with it. That’s what’s going to help the rest of it grow, too. But that was one of the things I saw. I was like, what do you mean, get rid of your books? You don’t need to get rid of your books.


Deedee Wills  9:43

Do you think that you could give me the name of those decodable chapters? You would ask her and tell me.


Adam Peterson  10:56

Yeah, I’ll ask her. I would look except she told me to stay away from the Amazon cart right now.  We shared an Amazon account. She goes, you can’t look at the orders right now.


Deedee Wills  11:04 

Yeah, look at Amazon. Don’t get in there.


Adam Peterson  11:06 

I haven’t, I’ve been good.


Deedee Wills  11:08 

You’d like to get a blink 182 t-shirt, right?


Adam Peterson  11:12 

Last week, I was sitting upstairs doing some work, and Alexa turned on and said, you have new notifications, would you like to hear them? So I thought maybe it was something with the weather that we get sometimes or something. And it was, your Amazon account has been very active this month. Take a listen to your past orders. I was like, oh, Alexa, stop. I didn’t hear anything. Well, I will ask her. I’ll ask her in person when I see her.


Deedee Wills  11:37 

I think that would be a  really cool thing to add because maybe we have some teachers who have children, who could have their own children and would be ready for something like that. I was going to say yesterday, I was in the first-grade classroom when I was working with a student and I was going through, and doing the SGI fry sight word list with this child. Actually, I experienced this with four students in this classroom, and there were words. Well, first of all, I had a student sitting next to me and, [inaudible 12:11 ] I get really nervous when I do these kinds of things. I’m like, dude, you know, it’s fine. I’m trying to get them to relax. I just get really nervous and he’s like, breathe so that anxiety level is up. He’s in first grade, we are in December. He already knows that this isn’t his strong thing. He’s like, I’m going to put him in my pocket. He’s precious but academically, he’s all over the place.


So as we’re going through these assessments, these sight words are high-frequency words. However, they’re not the same thing. But we’re not going to get into that. Anyhow, when we’re going through these high-frequency words, he has words like people that he can read but the wording, he can’t do it. It’s because, in this particular classroom, we are not doing the science of reading. He does not have that intensive blending practice that he needs to have because in, if, as, an, on all of those should have been a no brainer. And yet he has memorized visually the word people look like because it’s so visually different. And this is going to be a problem for him because we’ll see other words, of course, I can’t think of anything right now off the top of my head, it’s going to visually look like people. It’s going to be long like that. There’s going to be a couple of Ps and an L in there. And he’s just going to put the word people in there,


Adam Peterson  13:37 

 Like purple or something.


Deedee Wills  13:39 

Oh, purple. Thank you. That’s why you’re so smart.


Adam Peterson  13:41 

I could throw out color words, let’s not get carried away.


Deedee Wills  13:47 

The other thing is that he would read a sentence and put a word in there that did not make it was a CVC sentence. So it was like mom and Bob… I don’t know what they did. They did something with a fat cat. I don’t know, feed the fat cat or something. And you know, he put in a word in there that didn’t even make sense but there’s visually close. But that blending was his big, you know, he didn’t have that skill. And so, for teachers when we’re in a guided reading book that can be kind of hidden. But when we have a decodable book, it’s very obvious what happens…


Adam Peterson  14:31 

What was to the boy and the girl?


Deedee Wills  14:36 

[Deck and Jane]


Adam Peterson  14:37 

[Deck and Jane] right, like that’s what we did years ago, and that was also decodable.


Deedee Wills  14:45 

I feel like a lot of teachers right now are feeling just, I’m crying just thinking about it feeling defeated. This has been a year on top of a year on top of a year and that’s the best way I can put it. I mean, it’s like layer upon layer upon layer of not, you know, our best environment for teaching period. And you have students who are coming in who behaviorally, I have had a very, for some of them a very traumatic year. For other students, they’ve had a year where anything goes. They’re like, get like those kids at Walmart, they’re running up and down the alley. They’ve been doing up and down the aisles. We’ve been doing that for a year right at home, it’s been no reining in.


And so teachers are now having behavior problems, students with anxiety. They can’t teach them because we’re in such an emotionally stressed classroom. So oh, by the way, let’s go ahead and throw everything we used to know out the window, and I’m going to give you everything new, and go ahead and use that good luck. And I don’t want to create additional layers of stress but what I’m hoping that this podcast episode will do is give teachers the thought process of I can use some of the things I used to use, I just need to use them differently. And I need to seek out this other knowledge. You may not get to it in January, you may not get to it in February, but knowing that it’s out there and knowing that it’s something that you as an educator of early childhood need to kind of immerse yourself in. I feel like that’s better even though it raises the stress level a little bit, like, oh, I got to learn something new. I would much rather know there’s something else I need to learn so that I can help my little cutie pie yesterday, then I don’t know what to do. I’ve tried everything.


Adam Peterson  16:58 

I can’t speak from experience because I’m not in the classroom right now and I’m not teaching it but to me it makes so much sense that I don’t think it’s, I get it. If you’re in the classroom, you are stressed beyond belief. So to really learn it and study it and follow it, yes, there’s some work that needs to be done. But when you think about the basis of it, like, it seems easier to me. It seems easier to use this then than the way it was being done. Yes, teachers are stressed but I think they can take comfort in that too. Hey, this is the way I learned as a kid.


Deedee Wills  17:31 

Back to the text and so make sure that you’re selecting a book that’s in their wheelhouse. I’m not going with a kindergarten student who doesn’t know all their letters and sounds, I’m not going to ask them to go through a decodable book because that’s not where they’re at. So I’m going to be wanting to do all of my small groups should be surrounded on mastering those letters and sounds and maybe a little bit of blending practice as well. But that blending is something we could do right from the very beginning. So we don’t need to wait. We can say, okay, here are the three sounds that these letters make. I’m going to use the obvious at, let’s see if we can put those together. So C says… A says…  T says… and then let’s go ahead and blend them together. You might have to give a little gift, but we’re going to do that phonemic awareness skill of blending together. And that’s where they are and that’s what your small group can look like, instead of dragging them through a text that they’re not ready to know.


Adam Peterson  18:32 

So I just went to Amazon and type, let me share my screen.


Deedee Wills  18:36 

Oh, you are brave. You went to Amazon.


Adam Peterson  18:38 

I’m signed out on this computer. So on my phone, I just typed decodable chapter books, and I don’t know how they’re classifying books, this is a decodable chapter book for kids with dyslexia. I don’t know if that’s been researched or what this is. The company I’m sure put these out but if you look inside it clearly is all decodable words.


Deedee Wills  19:01 



Adam Peterson  19:02 

[In the fall time for the Kent’s 2 campus]. This may be…


Deedee Wills  19:09 

I’m just looking through this right now, this particular text, can you open that up again one more time Adam. So with this text, the student would need to know CVC words they would need to know Silent E. They would need to know consonant blends because the word can’t k, e, n, t, s is there. And they have the word split. They would need to know some diagraphs that look like because I see you know the word back and rock ending diagraphs and so, for me, this is a great tax for middle. What I’m thinking this is a great middle first grade, second-grade text, early second-grade text. It should be perfect because these words are all approachable.


Adam Peterson  20:05 

Just trying to see what they list. So there’s a whole series of sets. So this book listener called Fox hunt again, Amazon search decodable chapter books was the first one that popped up recommended by Amazon but there’s a little set of them. I am trying to see who it’s from.


Deedee Wills  20:25 

I don’t even know Cigdem…


Adam Peterson  20:29 

Cigdem Knebel.


Deedee Wills  20:31 

Okay, use your phonics skills with that one.


Adam Peterson  20:38 

But then you go down and it says the other products related to this item, and I don’t know if these are the ones that Trisha found or not, I can’t remember what she had. But this one does not say decodable but let’s see.


Deedee Wills  20:52 

So you look there, and you see where it’s like conversations boring, something important. So that’s a much higher level text, and it doesn’t appear to be decodable. But what I loved about the one that you had, it was low-level decodable chapters, which research also tells us is that…  The dogs’ bark when somebody rings the doorbell. It also tells us that students need to spend a lot of time and so having something that’s of high interest is going to be wonderful.


Here is another one by that same author, I’m wondering if she has had some study.


This book is great. This would be great for those, you know, definitely those chapter books for those little sweethearts that have fallen behind and, we’re trying to catch them up. They need to spend a ton of time in those decodable readers. We need to make sure we find books that are going to be interesting for them. We can’t give them the fat cat sat on the mat. I’m thinking about the second and third graders who are, you know, they’ve slipped through, or for whatever reason haven’t had the type of instruction that they need to have in order for them. You know, I’m thinking about my friend that I was just talking with yesterday. He needs a lot of instruction on tapping out those words and blending them together. That should be his daily lesson every single day as well as you know, not just him, though. I’m not saying just him. Every student needs that. This is what research says is this just for struggling readers. It helps struggling readers absolutely, and it helps them brain their brain.


Adam Peterson  23:08 

Those are good decodable words for them.


Deedee Wills  23:10 

Bless her heart, she’s having a hard time. But it helps their brain learn to read because it’s not a natural thing for a lot of people, but it also helps those students who are reading on grade level. So are you finding something else?


Adam Peterson  23:30 

So this is the author that Cigdem..


Deedee Wills  23:33 

Simple words. decodable chapter books, we choose words, wisely.


Adam Peterson  23:34


Deedee Wills  23:40 

I’ll make sure I include that in our show notes as well. I love it. She has all kinds of books there.


Adam Peterson  23:55 

Yeah, and her story is kind of cool, too. On her Amazon Author Page, I was reading it said that she couldn’t find something for her seven-year-old child, so she started writing her own. She’s got all kinds of it looks like awards from dyslexia Summit. She’s been a speaker dyslexia Summit. She’s got online summits there that might help some of you who are trying to do this on your own and get going free downloadable workbooks that are decodable, downloadable free sample collection, reader certificates is a pretty cool site.


Deedee Wills  24:26 

It is a very cool site.


Adam Peterson  24:27, reading, and self-confidence. I like that so that may be a place to start.


Deedee Wills  24:35 

Now, I will say Deanna and I have written decodable texts. So if you’re looking for something for a small group that’s available starting you know from the very beginning on up, but they’re intended for a small group, this is great, too. What do you give them after a small group is over? This would be something that you could give to your students as well.


Adam Peterson  24:54 

And these are very much again, I came up with the titles, but these are very much like the ones that I know Trisha’s little friend that is struggling because she’s like,


Deedee Wills  25:04 

The Gold Of A Black Rock Hill.


Adam Peterson  25:07 

Looks fun, doesn’t it? Pirate book. They’re all about the ocean. It looks almost like fantasy-type books. Self-awareness.


Deedee Wills  25:23 

Love it.


Adam Peterson  25:24 

Yeah, there’s a whole bunch of these. So what are those?


Deedee Wills  25:28 

There’s a literature guide anyhow, that’s all I wanted to talk about today.


Adam Peterson  25:44 

No, I love that because like I said, I haven’t studied this. I haven’t put it at the forefront of my learning. I haven’t had experience with it so. But to me, someone who hasn’t, and maybe speaking to some of the new teachers who haven’t taken the time it. It seems easy. It seems like the easiest thing to do, rather than trying to get through level books and all that with your students. So I appreciate all the effort you’ve put into it for teachers, cuz I know you spent some a lot of hours in these…


Deedee Wills  26:17 

And I am going to be starting a webinar series in January. I was going to try to do it in December, but everybody was like, please, I can’t take another thing in December. So it’ll be something I’ll start in the January webinar series on just different aspects of how you can make some changes to your current instruction. You know, question, and answer that sort of thing. So, if you follow me on social media, keep an eye out for it. If you’re on my email list, keep an eye out for it because I’ll be sending some notes out there on that.


Adam Peterson  26:46 

Alright. Okay, we’ll see you guys soon.


Deedee Wills  26:49 

We will probably air this after Christmas. So hopefully you had a great Christmas. Bye, guys.



About the Podcast

The Classroom Collaborative Podcast is a show about teaching, classroom, and education. We tackle new classroom tips and tricks in every episode.

About Your Hosts

Deedee Wills is an early childhood educator, instructional coach, and international educational consultant. She is also the author of the award-winning blog, Mrs. Wills Kindergarten.

Adam Peterson is a kindergarten teacher, nationally recognized speaker, and educational consultant. He also the creator of the popular YouTube channel,

I hope you enjoyed this episode! See you on the next one!

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