It’s been a big summer for our youngest son, Anthony. As a six-year-old entering Grade One, the final frontier for him has been learning to ride his two-wheeler. And as we worked on this together, I realized that helping someone learn to ride a bike is like helping kids learn to be a part of literacy routines.
The steps to success are much the same. Here are my thoughts.
1. Know your learner(s). Anthony is a smart, funny, out-going boy but he doesn’t like to take risks. Let me clarify that – safety risks. Sticking his neck out takes awhile for him because he has to step out of his comfort zone, learn all he needs to know to his satisfaction, and experience success, all at the same time. I know this about him, and we have a trusting relationship. The very same thing needs to happen in classrooms. Take time to know your learners – their interests, their strengths, their hurdles. This investment builds trust, a key component for a learning relationship to flourish.
2. Talk about goals – for the hour, the day, the month, the year. Our goal was to have Anthony riding his bike before our first camping trip mid-July so that he could rip around with his brother at camp. We almost made it. He was really looking forward to biking with his brother, and although it was a goal we all had, it became personal for him. Our students need to know the ‘why’ of what we do in class. What are we working toward? Why is this important? Through class goals/outcomes and individualized goals, students can take ownership over the routine building process and their own learning.
3. Set them up for success by teaching the key ‘procedures.’ Anthony had time with the training wheels on his bike. He knew what bike riding looked like (helmet on, pedalling consistently, staying balanced) and felt like before we took the trainers off. It didn’t mean he rode on his own the second we took them off; he just knew what he needed to work on to build his stamina and success as a rider. In our classrooms, we need to take all the time our students need to teach and practice the routine procedures that will lead to them being successful independently. They need to know what literacy routines look, sound, and feel like and the time to practice these behaviours before we can expect them to have a measure of success on their own.
4. Let them have a say in what they’re doing. Some days were better than others. Some days Anthony would ask to ride first thing in the morning. Other days, no amount of questioning (or nagging) on our part could convince him to get on that bike, even though we desperately wanted him to practice. He choose the swings, the sandbox, Lego, or books instead. And that’s okay. Kids need choice in what they’re doing. When you give them options for their experiences, they take ownership and build independence. It doesn’t mean you can’t guide them; it means providing them with choices, helping them to know what’s expected, and trusting them to do things on their own.
5. Get them going and step back. Anthony needed us to teach him and then give him a chance to practice. We needed to know when to hold onto the seat of the bike and when to let go. A gradual release of responsibility involves everyone. Know when to directly instruct your learners, know when you need to be in on the practice, and know when you need to stand back and watch the learning unfold.
The structure and safety of knowing what to expect and what support you will receive builds confidence, trust, and positive relationships. Most importantly, it builds independence and success as a learner.
I am so glad I had the chance to help Anthony learn to ride his bike.
- ‘iCan Bike’ helps special needs children lose training wheels (wjla.com)
- How much fun will your three year old child have learning to ride a bike? (observations.johnwlewis.info)
- Literacy Learning (chuggett.wordpress.com)
- The Daily 5: Work Smarter Not Harder (great structure for building literacy routines)