The Space Between

Something magical occurs in the moments a teacher and a reader interact.  It is often difficult to detect and even harder to quantify, but the space between the teaching and the learning is where the reader grows.  This interaction is less about what I can teach a student and more about recognizing, naming and extending what they are already doing.  Let me give you an example.

I have a reader with some bad decoding habits – she mumbles over words and makes nonsense guesses at others.  She started off with minimal strategies to read tricky words.  After my mini lessons on “Drop those bad reading habits” and specific strategies to figure out tricky words, I did the teaching – but she had yet to do the learning.  In the following days, as we conferenced one-on-one, I helped her recognize the strategies I taught and supported her to apply the skills.  Yes, this term scaffolding is often thrown around in education, but what are the specific steps to scaffolding learning where the student is in control?  Where the student constructs the learning?

First, the student does all the work.  As a teacher, I am watching her reading behaviors to identify what she is already trying and looking to link it to something she needs to learn.  In this case, my reader was not mumbling over a word (progress), but instead tried two attempts to read “right” as “reet” and “rit” then she kept going.  I stopped her and said “Whoa! Does that make sense?”  She had to do the thinking.

Secondly, name the strategy or skill the student is already trying.  She was trying multiple different vowel sounds to figure out a word, so I told her what she is doing and encouraged her to keep trying until she found a word that made sense.  Having a list of strategies or skills you want your students to accomplish can help you name the reading behaviors.  Think about all the lessons you will teach in a unit and all the lessons you previously taught .  Think about the specific skills you want your readers to master by the end of the year.  These are all possible things to recognize in their reading.

Finally, extend what the reader is doing by staying in the conference until she successfully complete the task. In this case, I stayed with the reader through the end of the page.  I restated the learning she just accomplished and encouraged her to keep doing that when she is stuck again.

This type of scaffolding for readers develops the growth mindset.  They are able to recognize what they are doing, work to keep doing it with support and overtime internalize their reading strategies into habits.  By articulating what happens in that illusive space between teaching and learning helps me understand why individual conferences with students are crucial to growing independent readers.


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