The Swimming Analogy
So, it came to me the other day when I was watching my son’s swimming lesson. He’s at that stage where he is starting to put it all together – the arms, the legs, the breathing…It’s hard. I was never a natural swimmer so I feel for him. Last week he did it all, but it was…weird…it was clunky.
It was hard to fault – his arms were rotating well, his legs were kicking nicely, but it looked wrong. It seemed mechanical and awkward. Like he was thinking about it too much instead of just doing it. And that’s when it came to me.
This is that extra something that many students and teachers miss when they are learning to read or teaching children to read. You can have all the technical aspects, and yet your reading can still be clunky and mechanical and awkward. I often get told about, and meet myself, students who can “read”. They read texts at their level, and yet they are missing something. Often it’s pinned down as a lack of comprehension. However, when you talk to these students, it is often clear they are getting the story. There is no obvious reason why they aren’t fully comprehending the story, why they’re not “reading”.
So, you explicitly teach them comprehension strategies, and they do really well at that. You chat, you explain, you connect, you relate, and it seems that they get it. They appear to be doing everything they need to do to be successful readers, but they remain unsuccessful.
It is my thinking that they are swimming like my son. They have all the skills, but they’re having trouble putting them together. It hasn’t come naturally, so it’s still a little clunky.
Now, if my son is going to get any better at swimming, he must practice. He must fail. He must practice again. He must keep going. He must observe others and imitate them. He must practice!
What is clear to me is that these students are, most of all, lacking in practice. We must give them the time and skills and opportunities to practice their reading so that it can become smooth and fluent. So that everything works together well. If we are not doing that, we are not helping them learn to read. (this will apply to writing too!)
The Bath Analogy
We used to live in an apartment in central Wellington. That was the place we bought my firstborn home to. We didn’t have a bath, just a shower. We lived there for just over two years and in all that time we used one of those plastic planter buckets, the big flexible ones that come in different colours, for him to bath in. Ours was green.
Our son was very happy in that bath. We would put in in the bottom of the shower and run the shower head down into it. We used bubble bath. He loved to have his hair combed through in the shower. As he got older, he played more and more in the bath. And he got bigger.
One day I realised he could do with a bigger bath. I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed it before. He was happy, he could still fit, but it just wasn’t as fun as it could be.
I randomly connected this to reading one day – sometimes kids just need a bigger bath to play in. I often find teachers are holding their students back with their reading, for whatever reason. It is easy to say, well, they’re doing well with this, so why challenge them more? But really, they need that bigger bath. The conditions can remain the same, but the space that they have to stretch themselves with their reading needs to be extended. Given the opportunity, you can be mighty surprised at what students can show you.
We got a bigger bath. Same type. Same colour. He loved it.