Prompting is Like a Jazzercise Video – No Really

Okay, maybe not specifically Jazzercise, but it’s definitely like a good ole exercise video. You remember those videos with the leg warmers and scrunchies – and the sweet house music. There’s actually a whole lot of brilliance built into those routines, regardless of how much spandex was involved.

Think about the prompting we do with students during guided reading groups. I always say that prompting is the secret sauce in a reading teacher’s bag of tricks. I don’t know why it doesn’t get more attention because the right series of prompts at the right time in a student’s development can make a world of difference. Expert prompting shows that a teacher knows her readers well, is closely monitoring their progress, and believes that they can do the work. No excuses. All things that I know make a good teacher, a great teacher.

Think about a teacher who knows that Sarah the first grader is reluctant to take risks, needs to practice working all the way through words when she decodes, and is super smart and capable. She’s going to prompt Sarah broadly at first: “This looks like a tricky word. What could you try here?” Then she let’s Sarah make several attempts before prompting further: “What else could you try?” Working through the word doesn’t come naturally yet for Sarah so her teacher responds more directly: “Use all the sounds in the word before you say it.” Finally she reinforces her attempt: “You read all the way through the word and checked the picture to see it made sense. Good readers use both of those strategies when they read.”

A superior reading teacher knows to start prompting at a distance to see what the student can do on their own. She takes a step inward only when the student demonstrates additional need. So how is this like Buns of Steel? (And yes, my last name means I know Tamilee Webb personally. For real.) If you look and listen closely to an exercise video you’ll hear the instructor prompt us with a basic move, allowing us to try it on for size. Then she gives us more detailed information so that we check our posture, tighten our abs, and keep going. Finally, she tells us the why behind this move and ties it to a specific result. Trust me. YouTube an old Buns of Steel and watch the master at work.

Are you using a prompting routine that starts out big then zeros in on the result? Try one on for size!