Learning to Ride a Bike
As spring began to overtake winter, I 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 on a spring afternoon. My dad came home from his factory job one day and saw me struggling to keep my balance as I rode the bike. 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, 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. 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.
This experience reminds me of what happens during assisted reading with feedback. A considerable body of theory and research in reading acquisition tells us that the foundational skills in reading (Common Core State 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 him or her, 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 text after reading. The focus is on how well he or she read, or if there is an area of need.
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 exceptions. As teachers we need to find ways to support our readers 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.
Timothy Rasinski, Ph.D., Kent State University, is the author of numerous books and articles on reading education. His research on fluency was cited by the National Reading Panel. Rasinski is the co-author of Building Vocabulary, Greek & Latin Roots: Keys to Building Vocabulary, Fluency through Practice and Performance, and consulted on TIME FOR KIDS® Nonfiction Readers and Read! Explore! Imagine! Fiction Readers. He is a frequent and popular presenter nationwide.
Thanks, Dr. Rasinski, for the great analogy of bicycle training to the gradual release employed in reading instruction! We’re wondering what analogies other teachers may use to illustrate the process of education. Have you ever thought, “Teaching is like . . . “? Share your ideas in the reply section!