Who's doing the work?

Write. Share. Give.

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for hosting the month long Slice of Life writing challenge.  I'll be writing here this month about kindness and other things.

A few weeks ago at the Reading Recovery Conference I had the privilege of seeing Terry Thompson present a session called "Are you Scaffolding or Rescuing".  He told us about how recently he found himself lying across the reading table with his hands in the book trying to get the student to notice something.  The kid was sitting back in the chair with his arms crossed.  Terry said at that moment he realized he wasn't doing any kind of scaffolding for that student.  We've all been there.  We've all laid across tables, done the work for the students or taken pens out of hands to "show" them what to do.  It's never intentional and we always realize our HUGE mistake after it's already been committed.

This brings be to a conversation I had with Cathy Mere a few weeks ago at the Dublin Literacy Conference.  I was telling her about this particular session and how powerful it was when she said something like "I know whenever my hand is in the book I've done too much."

This brings us to my Reading Recovery training and a current study my region is a part of.  We are looking at prompting and going up and down the scale of help to provide more or less support depending the student's immediate prior reaction.  We've discussed how we use nonverbal prompts to direct the child's attention without cluttering their brain with language.  Marie Clay tells us over and over again to avoid or limit talk when possible.  She tells us to keep our language crisp and to the point.

Cathy and I both work with struggling first grade readers.  She mostly works in small groups and I work one-on-one with Reading Recovery.  I also teach in a classroom which gives me the opportunity to adjust what I know from Reading Recovery into the classroom (that's another blog or 50 for another day).

I got to thinking about all of these things and wondered what Cathy thought of non-verbal prompts.  I sent her the question on Voxer and she got back to me saying she was going to monitor her nonverbal prompts and let me know what she notices.

When I speak of non-verbal prompts I'm not talking about lying across a table.  I'm talking about when you are sitting next to a student and they never reread after self correcting an error so you just tap your pencil to the beginning of the sentence.  When the student is reading through a book for the first time and they don't notice the words on the right page so you just set your finger on the corner of the page so they take and extra second to look.

I think a nonverbal prompt can be a powerful way to remind a student of something they have been exposed to but they don't have secure.  I use a masking card to show students where to break words for efficient solving; then I remind them how to use that strategy when they come to a new word that works the same way.  I also have a magnetic letter b and a letter d ready for the kids who have confusions when writing those letters.  Before they are able to consider which way the letter faces I have the letter there for them and we've kept "lapses to a minimum" as Marie Clay says.

I think the question we need to reflect on is who is doing more work?  If you are exhausted after a lesson because you've written, said words slowly, founds parts of words you know and so on then you are doing too much.  If we are providing the support that the student needs to take the next step up that ladder of learning then we are doing our job.  In time, all prompts verbal and non-verbal, need to be changed or taken away based on the student's needs. For right now, are you laying across the table or are you gently reminding a student who's brain is already working hard on so many other things?

**I know I said I was writing about kindness all month, but sometimes I get other ideas.  I can't even follow my own rules.  In a way, Cathy texting me this morning asking me to write about this was a kind way of giving me an idea.  In another way, my arm hurts from all the twisting.**


  1. This is my favorite phrase - without cluttering their brain with language.

    You might be interested in my article at Choice Literacy about prompting and support while I was teaching kindergarten. Our students need time, space, and nonverbal prompts. Thanks for sharing thoughtful thinking.


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