Monday, March 21, 2016

Simple Changes in Language

I still remember the overwhelmed feeling of my first year of teaching.  At that time, I distinctly remember telling myself to hang in there as surely by year three I'd have it figured out.  HA!  Here I am at year twenty something, and I'm still always working to figure it out.  The challenge, I believe, becomes that teaching is a people profession.  Children are always different, and different children have different needs.

This year, I've found myself looking hard at my teaching yet again.  As I work to support readers I have been really trying to figure out how to change my language to help the readers I support move toward independence.  I've changed a lot of aspects of my teaching with this group this year as a result of observations I have made.  I've worked to improve my language, my prompting, and our use of time.  Still I have felt that some of the students I support over-rely on adults when they read.  

Recently I read, Tripwires, The Prompting Funnel, and Letting Students Do the Work by Kim Yaris and Jan Burkins.  In the post, they said, "Typically, when a child encounters difficulty when reading, we are inclined to say things like,  'Does that make sense?' or 'What would sound right?' We worry that these prompts intervene too quickly, telling students what they need to do before they’ve had a chance to self-monitor and think for themselves about what they need to do."  This statement really made me pause.  Could my challenge be that simple?  Could a simple change in my language make a difference for my students? 

Last week I went back into my groups changing my language.  I changed two things:  
  • More wait time (I'm pretty good at wait time, but I extended it --- and made no eye contact with students who were solving --- just kept a little ear on their attempts)
  • When students needed support I started with a much higher level prompt:  "What could you try?"  (this higher level prompt often worked)
These two changes seemed to make a difference.  In another recent post, Jan & Kim created an infographic titled:  Who's Doing the Work.  You should check it out.  It was this statement within the infographic that I have hung onto across my work with readers this week:  "Ladders vs. Scaffolds:  Scaffolds only support us when they are in place.  Once the scaffold is removed, we are in no better position to reach a high place without the scaffold.  Instead, let's give students ladders they can fold up, take with them, and use anywhere."  I think I'll be thinking about both of these statements for awhile as I work to create ladders toward independence for the readers I support.  

1 comment:

  1. I was so interested to read about what happened when you tried this out in the classroom. Another thing that Jan and I have been experimenting with is our body language. We both feel such an inclination to bounce up and down and clap when students get things right. We've realized that students enjoy this sort of praise, but they also come to rely on it as confirmation of what they've gotten right which means we are stealing their opportunity to determine for themselves if they figured something out. We've been working toward neutralizing our body language and we've noticed some powerful changes. We notice students seem more willing to dig into solving reading problems, we notice that they are articulating their problems more specifically and seeking help from their peers. This gets us all excited because it feels being able to do those things will help them more when they are working independently.