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Teaching Reading Virtually – When Caregivers are TOO Helpful

Anybody teaching a lesson virtually this spring and notice a caregiver being too helpful? Maybe whispering answers? Or providing some unproductive prodding? A few thoughts…

They are the “first teachers” so it’s not surprising.

Many of these “too helpful” caregivers (e.g., parents, grandparents, guardians) teach this child every day–how to wash their hands, how to clear the dinner table, how to catch a ball, how to be kind to a sibling. It’s not surprising they want to help the student during distance learning. How do you ask a well-meaning caregiver to back off? There’s a lot you have probably already tried. Hopefully, you’ve had some success. First, I find that it takes courage sometimes to intervene or that sometimes it feels awkward; I am super grateful when parents, siblings, and other caregivers can be helpful and I don’t want them to feel as though I’m not. (I also don’t want to step on the toes of the first teacher.) Here are a few approaches my colleagues and I tried that seemed to work.

Intervene just before they do.

We’d been working with a kindergarten student whose mom really wanted to help. I could hear her whispering the words to him each time he hesitated. I also give a lot of wait time and I think she was uncomfortable with that so she’d jump in. I started to be able to predict when she’d help so one day just before the student came to a word I thought he might struggle with, I gently (but sort of firmly) said, Hold on, Mom and she did. (Again, I had to find the courage to say this but it seemed to pay off.) The student hesitated and then tackled that word on his own.

With another student, the older brother was whispering the answers. (This brother, a second grade student, was a HUGE help to us. He got his brother logged on everyday for lessons while juggling his own learning.) I intervened in a similar way by saying, “Hey, Big Brother. Thank you for your help! Let him do this on his own.” I actually had to lean in like this several times, but he started to catch on that he shouldn’t help as much.

Encourage the student to find a good “listening-learning spot.”

A colleague and I were working with a kindergarten student who was almost lying in her mom’s lap on the couch each day and her mom, only trying to be helpful, would jump in if the student hesitated. We suggested one day (after the morning meeting and before the 1:1 lesson) that she (the child) find a good “learning spot” where she wouldn’t be distracted. The child actually chose a place away from her mom AND the mother emailed us later and said that the child had told her she was doing too much of the work for her! We had much better lessons after that. (Mom was still nearby if we had technical issues which was nice.)

Let the caregiver know what they can do to help.

This last student is at an emergent stage for reading and her letter formation is not as far along as it needs to be. (She is making lower case letters like “e” with multiple strokes.) We asked the mom to help us by teaching her child the verbal pathways for forming letters (2-3 at a time). The classroom teacher set this up in SeeSaw. Not every parent is available to help like this, but for those who feel like they want to “teach,” be explicit about what they can do – letter formation (with verbal pathways), reading familiar reads, reading aloud children’s literature.

Share the why of reading lessons.

I’ve only brainstormed this idea with a group of educators so far. What we talked about, though, is making a quick video letting parents know that our reading lessons are a space for students to take risks, to try out some of the problem solving we have taught them and that it’s okay for the students to struggle productively. In other words, sharing the WHY of what we do versus the what.

The examples I’ve given have been focused on our youngest readers and a group of students whose caregivers (including not-much-older siblings) have time and energy to be present during lessons. I know this is not always the case. There were some caregivers we did not meet even though we would have loved such a meeting. More on that soon.

A BIG THANK you to Aracelis for asking me a question about this and sharing all she has tried. Oh, my goodness! I have so much respect for everything educators are doing to make distance learning successful for our kids!!!!

Hope this helps.


Photo credit: Raymond Vong Photography via Shutterstock

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