While thinking about teachers being less helpful, I remembered the little boy who ignited my desire to teach. As a volunteer mentor, we read together for four years. Once when I supplied a word he was struggling with, he let me know I spoke too soon by growling, "I wanted to figure it out!" That day he and I developed a signal for help that I still use today. I asked him to glance up at me if he wanted help. Until he did, I would sit quietly and let him think. That simple change made a huge difference in our relationship, his reading, and his self-confidence.
I teach classmates to be less helpful by explaining that telling a friend a word only helps at the time, but giving him time to think may help him really learn the word. I also wave my hand around in the air and ask if any of them can think better when all they see around them are hands waving. Even young children get the message and stay still.
Giving students time to think – wait time – helps them use their skills and strategies to solve problems or decode words. They realize they can figure things out for themselves – a prerequisite to higher-order thinking.