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!”