As spring begins to overtake winter, I’ve noticed an increasing number of children riding their bicycles in my neighborhood.
Seeing one father helping his daughter with her new two-wheeler reminded me of my own initial experience with my first bicycle. The bike I received for my birthday had no training wheels on it and so I floundered on my first attempts to ride it.
A Wobbly Start
My dad came home from his factory job one spring afternoon and saw me struggling to keep my balance as I rode. Getting out of the car, he walked over to me and had me get on the bike while he steadied it by grasping the seat.
As I pedaled and steered my bike, he ran next to me holding me up. When I turned, I usually leaned too much or too little into the curve; my dad gave me feedback (he’d say “lean the other way”) and supported me by tilting the bike in the opposite direction.
The Power of Supported Practice
After a few trips up and down the block he gave me a push, let go of the seat, and before I knew it, I was riding without his help. I could ride my bike! Later that afternoon my father gave me a few more tips on bike safety and expressed how proud he was of my accomplishment.
The experience of learning to ride my bike reminds me of what happens during assisted reading with feedback.
The Importance of Feedback in Learning to Read
A considerable body of theory and research in reading acquisition tell us that the foundational skills in reading (in the Common Core Standards, phonics, word recognition, and fluency) are best developed through instruction followed by practice with support and feedback.
When a struggling or developing reader reads a text while simultaneously hearing it read to them (either with a partner, a group, or a recorded reading) the developing reader will eventually be able to read that text (and others) without assistance.
An essential key to the assist, however, is to provide formative feedback to the reader in the same way that my father gave feedback to me. That feedback can take a variety of forms—emphasizing a word that was mispronounced, providing the definition to a word or phrase, or briefly discussing the reading after the reading and focusing on an area of need or areas in which the reader has improved.
Most learning, it seems, is facilitated by an assist, scaffold, or support provided by another. Learning to read and learning to ride a bike are no exception.
The Teacher’s Touch
As teachers, our role in reading acquisition is to find ways to support our students in their reading while providing formative feedback during and after their reading. When we do so we will find our students not only making great progress in their reading but also viewing themselves as competent and independent readers.