Walking back after throwing the bowling ball, I was shaking my head. My first two games had been an improvement over the first weeks since returning to a league, but this third game was not going well.
"What am I doing wrong?" I asked my husband. I just started bowling again this season for the first time in well over ten years. Since picking a bowling ball back up, I have had to relearn my starting spot, my steps, and adjustments for a spare.
"Just hit your mark," my husband said quite simply.
He could have said something about my release, following through, or even the speed of my ball. I'm pretty sure they all need some work. Not having bowled in so long is certainly like beginning again --- and everything needs some improvement. He chose to think about all the balls I had thrown and pick the one thing that might help me the most.
For the rest of the night, I just went up and concentrated on the mark I knew was most likely to bring me a strike. I ended up with a respectable finish.
Just like my husband decided to address the best next step for me as a bowler and avoided fixing the last ball I had thrown, the readers beside us need this same intentional focus. There certainly has been a lot of talk about not over-scaffolding. Burkins and Yaris have really given us much to think about in regards to this topic (such as Who's Doing the Work: Questions for Conferring, Scaffolding vs. Carrying).
This is a delicate balance (Are We Over-Scaffolding). When readers are sitting beside us, it can be easy to find ourselves giving too many supportive prompts; essentially telling readers what to do to get through the text. However, when we sit beside readers to help them with the next step in problem-solving, we have to stay focused on helping them "hit their mark." That means knowing our readers so well that we know the teaching point that is the next most important thing they need to do as a reader. It means choosing a book that will give them that practice. It means teaching a generative step that will work for them as a reader in all books not just the one in their hands right now.
For example, if my teaching point for a reader is to go back when something doesn't make sense or look right to work to self-correct, I often tell the reader this at the beginning of the lesson. I might say, "When we read, we have to make sure our reading looks right and makes sense. I've noticed sometimes when you are reading you will say a word that doesn't look right or make sense as you continue. When this happens, it's important to go back to fix it." I might show an example or demonstrate the way that might look as I read. From that point on in the lesson, I want to let that child do the work.
I make sure I pick a book that will allow this work, one that has a few places the child will have to solve and may need to self-correct. I have to allow the time for the reader to do this very thing: work to self-correct. In this case, I'd leave wait time; I'd wait until the end of a page (or paragraph depending upon the length of the text) to prompt if the student wasn't working to self-correct. This means I want my prompts to be tied to this new strategy for the reader and not the book. I write the language I will use in my plans from least supportive to most. In this case: "What did you notice?" "Try that again." "Something didn't look right, read it again and make it look right." "Something didn't make sense. Try it again. Our reading has to look right and make sense." My hope is to stay with the least supportive prompt to allow the reader to maintain ownership of the solving.
I know I want to be intentional in teaching next steps for readers, but I also know I have to monitor myself. If I find myself giving a myriad of prompts instead of just scaffolding the next step, I know I'm teaching the book and not the reader. Achieving this intentional clarity can help readers build self-talk to help with the next step; it can be a way to help them "hit their mark."