We all know children that check in. Bean checks in with me all day. Look mom, I’m about to climb the stairs. Ok, she doesn’t talk yet, but there’s usually a shriek and then eye contact which is what I call checking in. My dog even checks in. We taught him that, and it’s been extremely helpful when I know he’s listening but he ignores me. If he ignores my sit he then has to check in (Lincoln, look) and then he immediately does what he’s told. I like these check-ins.
But checking in when reading is something I often discourage. I find that stopping the check-in while reading is a small reading tip that has great payoff.
When I first realized this payoff I was working with a little girl, S, who I would categorize as a reluctant reader. She had trouble decoding, and hiding behind everything was a complete lack of confidence in her abilities.
I was sitting with S in her book nook in my classroom. As she read out loud to me, my eyes followed the words. While reading she would read a word with a questioning inflection, pause and look up at me. I would say, yup or yes, nice work, or nod my head that she got it correct. Sometimes she would look at me before finishing reading the word, and she would guess at what the word was. She was often wrong because 1) she wasn’t even looking at the word and 2) she was guessing, not using strategies to figure that word out.
S: “He walked up and down on the porch but he could not think of a store.” (She looks up at me, and reads this sentence with an upward inflection, like it was a question. The correct word was story. )
This is when it hit me. She was getting validation from me at every word she was somewhat unsure of. What was that validation helping her with? Nothing. It made her unsure, less confident, less reliant on her reading strategies, and more dependent on me while reading. I wanted her to be sure, confident, reliant on her reading strategies and able to read even when I (or another adult) was not there.
Me: S, I want you to try something. I want you to feel confident about your reading…(small explanation about what that word meant). I want you to be sure of the word you read, so sure that you don’t need to ask me or look up at me. When you look up at me you are looking for help, and I know that you don’t need help. You are a very strong reader, and you know what that word is. So now, if you look at me I am not going to nod or say yes. I am just going to listen to you work it out. I will stop you if you read a word incorrectly and we can go back and work through it together, but until then, keep going.
S: (staring at me incredulously…This teacher doesn’t want me to check in with her to see if I am right or not?) okay…..
And that was the beginning of a HUGE reading growth for S. She was holding herself back because she didn’t trust herself. She was checking in with me and the other adults around her, because of this lack of confidence. In turn, she was only becoming less sure of her own skills. The adults around her were doing what adults do best around kids, let them know if she was right or wrong, praise her when she did get it correct, and help when she didn’t necessarily need help.
I am all for giving assistance when a child does not know a word, but sometimes we are too quick to assist. We need to let them use their strategies (and believe me, they have them) before helping. If a child is reading a book that is just right for them, they should be able to read without too much assistance. If they need a lot of help and you find they are stumbling through their book, then that book is too hard for them.
Practicing means working with strategies and critical thinking skills as well as spending time reading.
Next time you get the check-in look, have a little chat and turn things around. They can do it, they just need us adults to remind them of this. As for Bean and Lincoln, I am going to keep those check-ins going…