Coaching may be the most valuable tool in a reading teacher's tool belt to consistently grow readers. Teaching students new skills and strategies is necessary and important, but you have to be able to coach to help students acquire those skills and strategies. The end goal of reading instruction is agency--creating independent readers who flexibly make decisions while reading.
Great teachers coach; they help learners set attainable goals--long term and short term, provide opportunities for practice, offer specific and timely feedback, help analyze progress toward the goal, offer words of encouragement along the way, and help set new goals when the old ones are met.
When coaching developing readers, your attitude matters the most. You have to believe that no matter who walks in your door, you'll have the tools to add value to them as a reader. This optimism is an attitude that has to be cultivated daily because the challenges will be many. It's a sort of faith in the humanity as well as the curriculum and instructional materials you utilize.
One way to begin shaping your own coaching skill set is by reframing your thoughts. When you meet that first tough customer, instead of thinking about all the stories you've heard about this learner, you'll have to train yourself to think about what could be and ask yourself, "What's possible?" Instead of thinking the worst, think that this is a student who you could really turn around--you could help them do a 180-degree turn. You'll have to engage in both positive self-talk and thinking if you want your students to be part of a culture that focuses on growth and adding value.
Positive self-talk isn't natural to everyone, but it is achievable. Spend thirty seconds in front of your mirror each morning telling yourself all the things you excel at in teaching. Remind yourself that you have the power to change lives daily and that it is a blessing. When the going gets tough during the daily lessons, remind yourself that you have what it takes, you won't give up, you'll just adapt, adjust, and overcome. Worst-case scenario, you'll regroup tomorrow.
Every day you'll have opportunities to teach for next time. I can honestly say the most valuable teaching lesson I ever got was the advice to teach for next time. We work with children and young adults who might not have received the grace of someone believing they could be better tomorrow than they are today.
When you teach for next time, you don’t focus so much on the here and now, you focus on what the outcome will look like next time. You give students hope that they can change. To teach for next time, break down large problems into small, attainable steps. You might even have to work on the steps one-by-one if the target goal/behavior is a great distance from the starting point.
Steps for teaching for next time:
-Start by stating the problem in a factual way. Today you did _____________.
-Think about what you want the student to do next time. If the solution has many steps, narrow the scope to no more than one reading behavior with a maximum of three steps.
-Express the solution. The next time you _________________, start by doing step a, and then step b, and then step c.
-Give the students reason to believe that a small change in behavior will result in a positive outcome. When you (repeat step a, b, and c), you will see _________________ result.
-Remind the student that they can do this. You have seen them do something similar before.
In a READ 180 classroom, this might look like a student who is struggling to stay focused on the software and is interrupting other students' learning. The teacher would need to have a conversation with the student privately. That conversation might sound like this. "Today I saw that you were struggling to stay focused on your software. Tomorrow, I want you to set the stopwatch on your phone. See how long you can work on the software before you feel distracted. Glance at the time, reset the stopwatch, and see if you can work longer for the next few minutes. When you are aware of how long you can focus, you can control getting refocused. I've seen you read for a ten minute stretch during independent reading, so I know you can do this."
Remember that you'll have to check in with readers as they practice and offer feedback and encouragement along the way. When the going gets tough, the tough sometimes need to see an honest smile and receive some words of encouragement. Remember, if it's worth doing, it’s worth celebrating.
Coaching moves are part of a teacher’s tool kit to help students foster their growth mindset. The whole first workshop in READ 180 is focused on growth mindset for students. Practice your coaching moves including adopting an attitude of optimism, talking positively to yourself, and coaching for next time. With that let's get on our marks, get ready, get set, and grow readers.
As always, I would love to hear from you. Add comments and share some of your next time planning and coaching moves.
Charmion Mohning is the Secondary Reading Coordinator and lead reader in Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District. She has presented at local, state, and national conferences about growing a love of reading, word study, and implementing READ 180 with fidelity. She is passionate about ensuring that every student can read. Before becoming an administrator, Charmion taught English as a Second Language in Grades 4-6 and was a curriculum coach for the district’s structured English immersion program. She has degrees from Upper Iowa University and Sam Houston State University.