The idea of teaching from ‘behind’ the child during reading instruction is a fairly new one. We have traditionally taught from at the front of the room, above a group of children, and across from them. When we stand behind a child as they read and write, we send several important messages to the child (especially to falling readers):
- I am here to guide you and to act as your coach.
- YOU are in control of the text and the challenges before you.
- I am not ‘checking up’ on you. I am merely observing how you are doing.
- You are capable of reading this book all by yourself! I believe in you.
As teachers and parents observe children from a distance, there is time to really ‘think’ about what the child can do and what the child needs. This drives our next steps and helps us to know which verbal prompts to use when coaching the child. This is important because so many of us instinctively want to ‘jump in’ the minute a child begins to struggle. Sometimes we are too quick to tell the child the first sound and even the word they’re stuck on! Every time this happens, children become more and more dependent on others for assistance.
Consider the following suggestions standing behind the reader (not necessarily in this order):
- Provide some “wait time.” Give the reader some time to think for 2 – 3 seconds before prompting him.
- Tell the child to make the first sound and to “try it.”
- Ask the child for find a part of the word he knows.
- Break the word up for the child with your thumb and then move his/her thumb to do the same.
- Point to the picture and then back to the beginning sound. Tell the child, “Now try it.”
- Remind the child to “go back” to the beginning of the line and start again.
- Offer the child 3 choices:
“Could it be ____? Could it be ____? Could it be ____?
- Ask, “How can you help yourself?” “How can you help yourself?”
- If the prompts are not working, simply tell the child the word so they can move on without breaking the flow of the sentence.
Think of ‘teaching from behind’ as a powerful way to become the reader’s “Jiminy Cricket!”
What are six of the most common habits of readers who begin to fall? Why do we need to be aware of them? How can we help children break these habits so that they can move forward in their literacy development? I began to raise these important questions after assessing and teaching hundreds of falling readers. I observed the variety of unusual ways in which they decode, comprehend, and respond to challenges in their books. I watched what they did with their eyes, lips, and fingers. I analyzed their behaviors as well as their substitutions for new and difficult words. What I discovered was that struggling kids commonly adopt coping behaviors for deal with what is too difficult or frustrating. If left unchecked, these behaviors often become habits. Habits, as we all know, are hard to break and new strategies are even harder to put in place!
You may want to visualize these coping behaviors as ‘red flags’ that signal problems with the way in which a reader is trying to learn to read. With this in mind, the first step to catching a falling reader is by becoming a careful observer so that you can identify behaviors that may, or already are, habits. The second step is to make the child aware of the habit and simultaneously offer alternative strategies for coping with the text. The third, and most important step, is to be consistent in finding ways to help the child to break the habit. Reminding the child one or two times will not do it! The verbal prompts that we use to break habits and instill new behaviors are critically important. By using consistently using the same verbal prompts, you will ultimately lead the reader to more effective strategies. This leads to success, success increases confidence, and confidence moves the child forward in new ways.
It is important that we differentiate feedback for different kids. Some respond well to positive verbal comments while others thrive with a pat on the back or a smile. Still there are those who prefer a written comment, sticker, or reward chart. Creating a balance between when, where, and how feedback is given is one of the greatest challenges for all teachers. What I know for sure is that some children need a ‘big splash’ once in a while to confirm their attempts at difficult tasks. Standing on a chair and clapping for kids WORKS! If you don’t believe me, try it! Delight in seeing the gleam in the eyes of kids who look up at you. In turn, they will be giving you some meaningful, loving feedback back to you.
This website is dedicated to helping children read, especially those with reading difficulties. I really like the Sight Words page: Activities for Teaching Dolch and Fry Word Lists:)