Guided Reading in Remote Teaching

Carrie McNeil


Carrie McNeil


Cape Breton University



This paper explores guided reading in remote learning situations.  With the emergence of the Coronavirus, many schools have been forced to move into remote learning situations.  Remote learning has presented many challenges to both students and teachers.  For teachers, it is very difficult to replicate in person learning in an online learning environment.   For elementary teachers, reading instruction poses a particular challenge.  Guided reading involves tailored instruction for small groups of students that meet at least once per cycle.  Research has been limited in both the areas of elementary education and guided reading, so this did pose a challenge to the author.  This paper will a) review guided reading along with its benefits and challenges; b) review literacy instruction in remote learning environments and c) highlight some applications that can be used for guided reading online.


Guided Reading, Literacy Instruction, Remote Learning


Video resourceGuided Reading and Remote Teaching (3:04)


It is the expectation of the Nova Scotia Department of Education that all teachers engage in guided reading at all grade levels.  Guided reading has become a common practice in elementary schools but less so in middle and high schools.   With the emergence of Coronavirus, many schools have had to move into remote teaching. Morgan (2020) says that while closing schools saved lives, it did present challenges to both students and teachers.  For students, inequitable access to technology, lack of home support, and mental wellbeing were some issues that arose during Covid.  For teachers, they were thrown into online learning with little to no professional development or training.  For elementary teachers, a particular challenge they were faced with was how to move their guided reading practice online.  The purpose of this paper is twofold.  First, it will explain guided reading, it’s benefits and challenges.  Second, it will demonstrate how literacy instruction can work in remote learning situations.

Literature Review

What is Guided Reading?

Fountas and Pinnell (as cited in Ferguson, & Wilson, 2009) define guided reading as, “an instructional setting that enables (teachers) to work with small groups of students to help them learn effective strategies for processing text” (p, 189).  They suggest that nowadays guided reading is seen as more of an intervention for struggling readers, but I disagree.  In Nova Scotia schools, guided reading is the expectation for all students at all grade levels.  Iaquinta (2006) believes that guided reading has three purposes:  to meet the instructional needs of all students, to teach students to read increasingly challenging texts with comprehension and fluency and to “construct meaning while using problem solving strategies to figure out unfamiliar words that deal with complex sentence structures, and understand concepts or ideas not previously encountered”(p.414).  This is strongly aligned with the thinking of our school district.  Fountas and Pinnell (2012) outline the structure of a guided reading lesson: book selection, book introduction, reading of the book, discussion, teaching points, word work and finally comprehension.  This is very much the way that guided reading flows in lower elementary.  However, as students progress through reading levels, the focus is more on developing and extending comprehension.

Benefits of Guided Reading

Iaquinta (2006) has found that the success of guided reading is dependent on how skillful the teacher is at developing independence.  A skilled teacher who knows when and where to focus student attention will support student’s problem solving, comprehension and decoding skills.  Gabl et al. (2007) support the conclusion that guided reading increases student comprehension.  Their research with grade 2-4 students revealed that using levelled books was very successful in increasing student comprehension and fluency.   They also noted that their students enjoyed the collaborative component and that it seemed to increase their engagement in the process.  They did recommend changing groups every so often to keep students interested and promote social skills amongst peers. I agree that students do enjoy working with different peers, but guided reading groups are based on reading level or strategy which limits interactions.  Young (2019) had much praise for the results of his study on the use of guided reading in a grade two classroom.  Some students went from reading at a kindergarten level to reading at end of grade level by the end of the intervention.  I do need to point out that students who received the guided reading intervention did so for 75 minutes a week.  This is certainly wonderful for those students but not the reality in most classrooms.

Challenges of Guided Reading

For teachers, especially in lower elementary, one of the biggest challenges of guided reading is determining what the other students will be doing during this time.  Fountas and Pinell (as cited in Fountas & Pinnell, 2012) state that “The first agenda for the teacher is to build a community of readers and writers in the classroom so the students are engaged and independent in meaningful and productive language and literacy opportunities while the teacher meets with small groups” (p.269).  That is easy to say but if you are a grade primary or one teacher then fostering independence is no easy task.  Ford and Opitz  (2008) found that “so much attention was given to what the teacher was supposed to do during the guided reading lesson that little attention was given to what the students were supposed to do when they were not with the teacher (p. 321).  Many teachers had students engage in rotational centers or independent work that does not connect to guided reading.

Another challenge with guided reading has to do with leveled texts.  In classrooms all around, you will see baskets of books labeled from A to Z.  The staple of guided reading are these texts that increase in difficulty as you progress through the levels.  Ford and Opitz (2008) noted an overreliance of narrative texts in classrooms.  He argues that there needs to be a balance between narrative and informational text so that students can be familiar with different text structures.   Fountas and Pinnell (2012) point out that all texts are not created equal and that there is more to a text than its level.  Teachers need to pay close attention to the characteristics of the text to determine if it is a good instructional challenge for a particular student.  Ferguson & Wilson (2009) cited teachers’ concerns over a lack of available texts and “both primary and upper, expressed that they were, “restricted in what materials to use” in their schools” (p.301).

Guided Literacy Instruction in Remote Learning Contexts

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many schools have had to prepare or move to remote learning, sometimes with very short notice.   Some schools moved into the fully online mode of teaching while others were sent into blended or hybrid learning.  Schools used both synchronous and asynchronous models of instruction.  Pytash and O’Byrne (2014) describe synchronous learning as events that happen in real-time and retain the elements of conversation and discussion.  Asynchronous learning happens outside of real time and gives students the opportunity to respond later.  They believe that both can be used together to enhance a student’s learning experience by enhancing communication and collaboration.

When it comes to guided reading instruction, this is a synchronous learning experience.  Students would have a virtual meeting set up at a specified time with the teacher and classmates who are in their guided reading group. Guided reading instruction does not simply involve reading books.  Schwartz (2020) says that literacy instruction “often requires hands-on activities, like manipulating letter tiles, or learning how to form their shapes. And before they can sound out words, children rely on read-aloud stories, interactive play, and conversations to learn vocabulary and build knowledge about the world” (p.8).    She suggests breakout rooms for small group instruction that would have the same lesson structure as in class to allow students to meet these objectives.   She argues that while coaching videos on YouTube can supplement instruction and be beneficial to both students and parents, they are not a replacement for quality teaching.

Sayko (2020) states that when designing literacy instruction, teachers need to clearly identify and communicate learning objectives. promote personalized and contextualized learning, and (3) plan for visual and audio representation of concepts.  Technology should enhance and not replace instruction.   Teachers do understand this but lack the professional development needed to gain confidence in using technology for instructional purposes.  This can lead to videos and games being used to fill time more so than meeting an outcome. Teachers need to evaluate the technology tool to determine its effectiveness in meeting their literacy goals.

When it comes to reading texts, there is a difference between printed and digital books.  When designing their guided reading lesson, teachers need to be aware that online books have graphics, hyperlinks, videos embedded in them which make readers must make decisions about where to go next.  They also have their own operational functions.  Sayko (2020) believes that this is a concern for those who have low decision-making skills and low income/home support.  When searching for information in online texts, students use familiar and new reading comprehension skills:  (1) identify important questions, (2) locate information, (3) evaluate information critically, (4) synthesize information, and (5) communicate information.  Those students who are low in comprehension and decision-making skills, may have a difficult time knowing where to search and locate specific information about a text.   Teachers will need to employ instructional strategies to help develop these skills. They could do so by including such activities as brainstorming, collaboration, and using context clues to locate information in text.  He believes that “watching YouTube videos is not an effective teaching strategy and that “student interaction with others when using technologies for literacy learning is key” (p.4).

Pytash and O’Byrne (2014) suggest using classroom tools for discussion and collaboration.  “Allowing students to collaborate in deconstructing information texts can provide insight into the text structures and particular features, as well as the understanding of specialized disciplinary knowledge needed for comprehension” (p.191).  Macaruso et al (2020) believe that digital tools are an effective way to enhance reading instruction.  She states that research has shown low to modest results with the best results coming from using them outside of the classroom.   “Students have flexibility in accessing digital tools at various locations and times, and teachers can utilize online activities to adapt their instruction to meet individual students’ needs, including those at-risk for academic failure” (p.2840).   She feels that digital tools enable teachers to use real-time feedback to target instruction to individual or small groups of learners.  Teachers can use real time feedback to provide individualized instruction. that targets skill gaps.  In her opinion, students would be more engaged and motivated in the learning process, but research is lacking as to whether this approach to instruction is successful.

Application – Incorporation of Technology in Guided Reading Instruction

The following sections will touch on some of the possible technology applications, websites and programs that are available to support guided reading in the classroom.  This list is not exhaustive but does present some tools that can help guide and support instruction.

Instructional Reading Materials

Epic! Books

Epic! (n.d.) is an online book subscription service.  It has over 40 00 books available to students and teachers, including leveled texts.  The basic plan is free.  The paid subscription gives access to parents after school hours.  Students require a class code or login account to access the site.  There are follow-along Read to Me books, quizzes, vocabulary, and videos.  Teachers and parents can track student progress.

Reading A to Z

Reading A to Z (, 2016) is a paid subscription that gives access to books, teaching resources and lesson plans.  You can get a single or school subscription.  Each book includes lesson plan, quiz, discussion cards and worksheets.  Resources are available in many different languages.   All materials can be downloaded, printed, or projected for whole class lessons.


Nearpod (n.d.) This is an instructional platform that makes lessons interactive.  There is a free silver plan that gives you and your students access to the site.  It has limited storage and capabilities.  There are options to upgrade to more premium packages.  You can upload your own PowerPoint or google slides or can choose from the thousands of lessons already created.  Students will have opportunities to demonstrate their understanding by typing in responses, drawing, or answering multiple-choice questions.  They can see their classmates’ responses in real time.   Teachers require an account and have the option to connect students by submitting the lesson code through google classroom (Delacruz, 2014).


YouTube (Google,  is a platform where you can create, publish, or view videos to share with others.  This is a free website that offers a paid subscription for premium options.  For teachers, some possible useful videos include teaching videos, songs and read-aloud stories.

Collaboration Tools

Google Jamboard

Jamboard (Google, n.d., c) is a free app that is offered as part of Google’s Apps for Education Suite.  It is a digital interactive whiteboard that can be used for collaboration.  It can be used for both small and large group teaching.  You can have whole-class collaboration on one board or assign students their own individual board with a limit of 20 students.  Some possible uses include pros/cons list, poster, graphic organizer, and storytelling.

Google Meets

Meets (Google, n.d., d) is offered as part of Google’s Apps for Education Suite.  It is available for free to students and teachers.  It is a conferencing tool which allows teachers to conference with students or fellow teachers.

Google Classroom

Google Classroom (n.d., a) is offered at part of Google’s Apps for Education.  It is a free app that allows teachers to communicate with students, create and grade assignments It allows the user to create and add material, create assignments and more.

Assessment and Evaluation


Flipgrid (n.d.) is an online video discussion form where students create video responses to a question or topic.  This is a synchronous platform allowing students to record and respond anywhere, anytime.  Flipgrid offers its users the options of re-recording over videos and gives access to stickers, emojis and text.

Google Forms

Google Forms (n.d., b) is available through Google Apps for Education.  This is a free app that allows teachers to create assignments, quizzes and surveys that can be submitted through google classroom.  Some possible responses include from multiple-choice, short answer, or paragraph form.  You also have the option of adding images.


The coronavirus pandemic has affected many lives in this past year and resulted in many changes to our lives.  An area that has had to undergo quick change is education.  Schools were forced to shut down with instruction moving to fully online, blended or hybrid learning.  This sudden shift to remote learning has been challenging for both teachers and students.  It is difficult to replicate face-to-face teaching in an online environment.  Literacy instruction, particularly in elementary grades, posed a particular challenge.  How do we simulate the intimate, small group setting and tailored instruction of guided reading online?  For this to work, teachers need to design their instruction with clear goals in mind.  It is important to consider that online books differ from a printed book and require comprehension and decoding skills that may not yet be developed in the learner.  By using digital tools to meet instructional goals, teachers can enhance communication, collaboration, and evaluation.  There is a lack of research in guided reading.  Future studies should focus on how digital tools could be used to enhance reading instruction in elementary classrooms.


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