Thursday, April 26, 2012

Scaffolding that Works...And Scaffolding that Doesn't

Student Achievement Best Practices

By Deia Sanders, Master Teacher & Instructional Coach

student achievement best practices scaffolding tips
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For several years when I would teach math I knew I constantly needed to be checking for understanding.  The easiest way to do that was to work a problem with the students, then start a problem for the students and work all but the last step, then work all but the last 2 steps, etc…and continue this process through the number of steps until they were working them on their own.   As soon as the work was handed over to the students it was vital that I “work the room” and check each step for understanding, clearing up each misconception before moving on.  By the time they were “turned loose” to practice, I was certain each student had completed an entire problem on their own and any confusion had been addressed.

To me this was logical. I’m a mom and this is how we taught our kids to walk, feed themselves, and potty train.  We were right there to hold them and help them and eventually were able to turn loose, give a spoon, and turn the light on, for them to complete these tasks individually.

It was a couple of years before I figured out this process had a fancy student achievement best practices name, and it was the “scaffolding” method I’d heard mentioned so many times.  I always assumed scaffolding was a difficult process. Did they really have a name and training for something that should have been common sense?  Maybe if they called it the “Baby Step” method people would be more willing to try it.

This year I was able to witness a great scaffolding method for teaching writing.  The teacher gave the opening sentence, as well as the first sentence for each of the three body paragraphs and conclusion.  Some people thought this might be helping them too much, but our writing scores soared after this process. By the second writing, which was completed on their own, they were much more successful than previously.  The “hand holding” and guiding in the beginning made the writing process “click” much faster in the end.

After seeing scaffolding be so successful across disciplines you would think everyone would try it. But I’ve found that many teachers will work step by step every question with a student with no opportunity for the student to think or process their way through a problem.  When the student begins working on their own they don’t know where to begin because there was no need to follow along when the teacher was going to give the answer each time.  This leads to hands popping up like popcorn and more questions than a teacher can address individually, so they return back to the front to work more problems and the cycle continues.

Scaffolding or front-loading the instruction and assistance with a gradual release helps with classroom management because of the time on task, the confidence of students because the gradual letting go never feels overwhelming, and faster learning because of the full understanding when practice begins. Although they may be big kids in junior high and high school, they are still someone’s children, and if we will guide them and slowly allow independence as if we would our own children, we would see their confidence and success grow.

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