Introducing the CASS Guided Reading Project (Part 2)

In the first blog entry, we noted that there is a substantial variability in our understanding of how guided reading is thought to foster specific literacy skills. Further, we explained how our use of corpus methods will enable us to identify a wide range of teacher strategies used in guided reading. That is a crucial first step in providing a more refined understanding of the range of teacher strategies that are used. A natural ‘next step’ is to determine which strategies are most effective: that is, which strategies result in positive outcomes. Again, corpus search tools provide an efficient and accurate method for achieving this.

Which language and literacy skills are targeted by guided reading?

Guided reading has the potential to develop a range of essential reading skills. These skills are numerous, so teachers may choose to target different skills according to the group’s reading ability. For example, 4-year-olds are only just beginning to develop their ability to read words on a page, so teachers are more likely to focus on ways of improving their accurate translation of print into word meanings (i.e., decoding skills and vocabulary). Conversely, older children are able to read words relatively well, so teachers are more likely to target improving an understanding of the language that has been accessed from the printed word (i.e., reading comprehension skills).

How can we measure potential outcomes from guided reading?

Compared to normal ‘control’ reading sessions, children who undertake a series of guided reading sessions typically display greater improvements in standardised assessments of reading skills (see Burkins & Croft, 2009; Ford, 2015).

However, such longitudinal assessments do not provide a measure of the effect that specific teacher strategies have on the quality of the responses by the child. Some recent studies of shared reading (which apply similar scaffolding strategies to guided reading, but involve the sharing of an enlarged book rather than providing a copy to each child) have attempted to investigate this by parsing through the children’s responses and coding for features of interest. For example, Justice and colleagues (2013) used this method to report that children responded to rich teacher input by providing more multi-clause utterances themselves (e.g., coordinated clauses: He read the book and watched TV; subordinated clauses: He read the book because he enjoys reading). However, as noted in the first blog, this means of coding is arduous and time consuming. Instead, we can use corpus search methods to uncover a wider range of language features more reliably and speedily. That enables us to analyse a larger number of child-teacher interactions and to study these interactions across a range of contexts and in relation to a number of different factors such as (i) age, (ii) reading ability, (iii) socio-economic status, (iv) gender, (v) reading motivation, and (vi) teacher experience. These will be discussed separately in a future blog.

Other research into shared reading has used some simple corpus search methods to measure the quality of response. Those studies measured whether the average length of an utterance is one word or multiword (e.g., Zucker and colleagues, 2010). However, such a measure is limited in richness of information, and only applies to very young children (up to around 5 years of age). Our work at CASS will draw on the work from shared reading and extend that knowledge base by providing more advanced corpus search queries that enable a fine-grained analysis of the quality of children’s responses. For example, we can analyse the quality of responses in terms of grammatical features, vocabulary diversity, and syntactic structure, rather than just on length of utterance.

In an upcoming blog, we will provide a closer insight into the specific corpus search measurements that we are using to identify teacher strategies (as introduced in the first blog), and their effectiveness on the quality of responses by children (as introduced in the current blog).

An update on data collection

The CASS guided reading project aims to create a large corpus made up of a total of 100 guided reading sessions that each last between 15-35 minutes. So far, we have recorded around 80% of our target number of sessions, and the corpus is projected to reach between 400,000 to 500,000 words!

All recordings have been at primary schools in the UK with children aged between 4 and 10 (Y1 to Y6). Recordings are made in a naturalistic manner such that they are non-invasive to the normal proceedings of a lesson. A voice recorder is set up, as well as a video camera so that we can identify individual speakers if the audio is unclear.

A big shout out to all the wonderful schools and teachers who have helped us so far: Ryelands CE, Mereside, Baines Endowed CE, Dolphinholme CE, Ellel St John’s CE, Halton St Wilfrid’s CE, Pilling St John’s CE, and Kirkland and Catterall Saint Helen’s CE. These schools have been so welcoming and their contribution to the research is invaluable! Also, a big thanks to our ‘Queen of transcription’, Ruth Avon, who has worked tirelessly to keep the transcribing of the recordings well on track for a complete analysis in early 2017.


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

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

Justice, L. M., McGinty, A.S., Zucker, T., Cabell, S.Q., & Piasta, S.B. (2013). Bi-directional dynamics underlie the complexity of talk in teacher–child play-based conversations in classrooms serving at-risk pupils. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28, 496– 508.

Zucker, T.A., Justice, L.M., Piasta, S. B., Kaderavek, J. N. (2010). Preschool teachers’ literal and inferential questions and children’s responses during whole-class shared reading. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 25, 65–83.