When I was a child, roller skating was one of my favorite activities. I would roller skate at the roller skating rink, in the driveway, or down the street at my friend's house pretending we were in the Olympics. The thing is, when I was learning to skate, there wasn't a lot of instruction and support. My dad did give me a few tips: the rubber stopper is to stop you; if you fall, be careful that you don't run over your fingers when you get up; always skate counter-clockwise around the rink. We figured it out from watching others and just trying until we got it. Recently, my youngest son, Brody, was invited to a skating party for a friend's birthday. He met the day full of trepidation and worry over the unknown. He worried about not knowing how to skate and what to expect when he got there. I gave him my dad's 3 key instructions, helped him get his skates on, and sent him off. Bad idea. Knowing everything I know about direct instruction, feedback, and gradual release, why would I not put those tools to use here??? So I picked my sweet boy up off the floor (again) and took him aside. I gave him some instruction on skating, along with some feedback on what I had seen so far. But then I realized he needed more support. In the corner of the skating rink, I spotted some super cool pvc pipe contraptions that kiddos can use as a support. GENIUS! Soon Brody was on his way to skating! All he needed was explicit instruction on skating, a little feedback, time and the pvc support to keep him moving while he was learning. The support didn't skate for him, but it offered him something to lean on when he felt like he was in trouble and kept him from crashing and burning. Soon, I noticed Brody would use the support for a little bit and then when he felt like he could do it on his own, he set the pvc support aside and gave it a try. There were times when he might go back and use the support for reinforcement, but as time moved on he needed the support less and less.
I thought about what a great metaphor this skating experience is for our instruction in literacy. Our students need our instruction, they can't play the game if they don't know the strategies to play; however, they also need support. Not the kind of support that does it for them, but support that is there for them to use when needed, yet gives them the option to let it go when they feel like they are ready to try it on their own. In my classroom, I have lots of those supports in place. They might be mentor texts, anchor charts, our CAFE menu, checklists and rubrics for kids to use when self-assessing and setting goals to keep moving forward. I think these supports are necessary in a student's journey. They give kids an opportunity to feel success without an all or nothing weight around their neck. What a great way to honor a child's individual learning journey! What are supports that you offer in your classroom to keep your kids going?