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  • by Blaine Helwig

Exploring Guided Novel Instruction (GNI) Pedagogy

Learning - any type of human learning - requires consistent practice and reflection to achieve proficiency at a given task. There must be some old fashioned 'elbow grease' or effort on one's part to get better at a task or process. I can recall throwing a baseball back and forth with my father or older brother every day during the spring and summer when I was a kid. Lo and behold, after so much practice, my brother and I were both better than average ballplayers. Fortunately, it is really quite simple. Whatever one consistently practices over a period of time, they are usually proficient. Conversely, whatever one does not consistently practice, they are not skillful.

As expected, reading and writing are not exceptions to this operational definition of learning.

I have visited over 250 elementary schools in the last three decades as an educator and a consultant -- both low and high socioeconomic school settings. On these visits, I am no longer surprised to observe in intermediate classrooms, regardless of the economic class of students, how little students actually read with any guidance and accountability in a typical 150 minute ELA/RLA block. In short, for all practical purposes, a high percentage of elementary students do NOT practice or engage in the 'act of reading' unless they are self-motivated readers, or they are pressed and motivated by a respected adult in their lives. Consequently, so many young students are not capable or proficient readers. However, it does not have to be like this in so many of our country's elementary and middle school settings (Title 1 schools or not).

Let's be clear. It is NOT kids' lack of motivation or some new innate oppositional defiance behavior in today's youth. Nope! That is not the cause of the poor literacy performance over the last 6 decades in either prepandemic or postpandemic COVID. It is due to poor methodology and pedagogy issues in the classroom.

What is Guided Novel Instruction (GNI)?

Guided Novel Instruction is a derivative of traditional novel studies that have been used for decades in public schools; however, GNI eliminates many of the pitfalls commonly associated with student accountability and deeper learning/comprehension issues associated with traditional novel pedagogy. GNI affords students the rich reading opportunities to appreciate award winning novels such as Caldecott, Newberry, Bluebonnet (Texas), Alex Awards, etc. These amazingly well written and constructed novels were selected for recognition by adults that understand the metaphoric and allegoric nature of these narratives. However, when these books are read independently by elementary and middle school children, the vast majority of these students do not possess the perspective - in one form or another - to grasp the significance, meaning and 'greatness' of these award winning novels that frequently speak to students' culture and identity. GNI solves these issues and many, many more in one fell pedagogical swoop.

Using GNI, students 'discover' that reading is not a laborious chore, but a worthwhile and entertaining pursuit with one's free time. Children begin 'to consistently practice' the act of reading daily during GNI reading sessions and independent as well. Thus, children's interest in literature and their reading proficiency is simultaneously and dramatically heightened as are campus' literacy outcomes on in-class formative/summative or state standardized assessments.

A white paper extolling the nature and benefits of Guided Novel Instruction as well as Why, How and What in its methodology is available to interested educators as a FREE PDF download. It can be accessed via the "Expertise Resources" tab on the home page at the New 3Rs Academic Transformation website.

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