Introducing the CASS Guided Reading Project (Part 1)

In collaboration with the Department of Psychology, CASS is investigating the critical features of guided reading that can benefit the language and literacy skills of typically developing children.

What is guided reading?

Guided reading is a technique used by teachers to support literacy development. The teacher works with a small group of children, typically not more than 6, who are grouped according to ability and who work together on the same text. This ability-grouping enables the teacher to focus on the specific needs of those children, and to provide opportunities for them to develop their understanding of what they read through discussion, as well as their reading fluency. In this project we are investigating the features of effective guided reading, with a particular emphasis on reading comprehension.

Features of guided reading

Teachers aim to bridge the gap between children’s current and potential ability. Research indicates that this is best achieved by using methods that facilitate interaction, rather than by providing explicit instruction alone (e.g., Pianta et al., 2007).

The strategies that teachers can use to support and develop understanding of the text are best described as lying on a continuum, from low challenge strategies – for example, asking children simple yes/no or closed-answer questions – to high challenge strategies, that might require children to explain a character’s motivation and evaluate the text. Low challenge strategies pose more limited constraints on possible answers: they may simply require children to repeat back part of the text or provide a one word response, such as a character’s name. High challenge strategies provide greater opportunity for children to express their own interpretation of the text.

Low challenge questions can be used by the teacher to assess children’s basic level of understanding and are also a good way to encourage children to participate in the session. High challenge questions assess a deeper understanding and more sophisticated comprehension skills. Skilled teachers will adapt questions and their challenge depending on the group and individual children’s level of understanding and responsiveness, with the intent of gradually increasing the responsibility for the children to take turns in leading the discussion. This technique is used to scaffold the discussion.

Our investigation: How is guided reading effective?

Previous studies observing guided reading highlight substantial variability in what teachers do and, therefore, in our understanding of how guided reading can be used to best foster language and literacy skills. A more fine-grained and detailed examination of teacher input and its relation to children’s responses is needed to determine the teacher strategies that are most effective in achieving specific positive outcomes (see Burkins & Croft, 2009; Ford, 2015).

Previous research on this topic has typically taken the form of observational studies, in which researchers have had to laboriously parse and hand-code transcriptions of the teacher-children interactions (a corpus) to identify teacher strategies of interest. Because this is a long and painstaking process, it limits the size of the corpus to one that can be coded within a realistic time window. In this project, we aim to maximise interpretation of these naturalistic classroom interactions using powerful corpus search tools. These enable precise computer-searches for a wide range of language features, and are much faster and more reliable compared to hand-coding. This enables us to create and explore a much larger corpus of guided reading sessions than in previous studies, making a fine-grained analysis possible. For an introduction to corpus search methods, check out this CASS document.

Future blogs will provide more detail about the specific corpus search measurements that CASS are using to identify what makes for effective guided reading. The next (upcoming) blog, however, will explain the motivation for using corpus methods to investigate the effective outcomes of guided reading.

Meet the Author of this blog: Liam Blything

Since July 2016, I have been working as a Senior Research Associate on the CASS guided reading project. My Psychology PhD focused on language acquisition and has been awarded by Lancaster University. It is a great privilege to be working on such an exciting project that answers psychological questions with all these exciting and advanced corpus linguistics methods. I look forward to providing future updates!



Burkins, J. & Croft, M. M. (2010). Preventing misguided reading: new strategies for guided reading teachers. Thousand Oaks CA: Corwin.

Pianta, R. C., Belsky, J., Houts, R., Morrison, F., & the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network. (2007). Opportunities to learn in America’s elementary classrooms. Science, 315, 1795–1796.

Ford, M. P. (2015). Guided Reading: What’s New, and What’s Next? North Mankato, MN : Capstone.