How can the use of scaffolding support student achievement?
“Start with where you want them to be (the grade level standard) and make it learnable.” (C. Boyles).
As educators, we have the very complicated task of ensuring that all students are successful learners, but how exactly do we do that? How do we make sure students learn what is expected? One effective strategy is to purposefully scaffold instruction. And one poignant example of just how effective scaffolding really is can be found in one of childhood’s most enduring pastimes; t-ball.
If you’ve never had the experience of watching a t-ball game, it’s a Saturday morning well spent. As t-ball is the foundation for both softball and baseball, coaching it requires a lot of patience and support, so coaches have learned that utilizing scaffolding alongside gradual release is the best approach to make certain that each of their young players grasps the fundamentals of the game (such as how to hit a ball, catch, throw and eventually run bases in the correct order). They start with very few rules because the focus is on developing confidence through the mastery of skills. As children become more proficient with the basics, they move on to coach’s pitch which offers a new challenge. The support structures that were put into place at the beginning are slowly removed as children become more confident in their ability to play the sport. This confidence causes something remarkable to happen, children are no longer satisfied with just being able to hit a ball off a tee, but instead, eagerly seek out new challenges to conquer.
What lessons can we learn from t-ball? Children are given the support they need to be successful, building their confidence to try more difficult and challenging tasks. Their confidence is bolstered by the success that comes from proper support. Scaffolds that are provided are temporary and are removed once the children have mastered the skills. This means that they are well planned, seeking to balance challenge and continued support.
How does this help me improve student achievement?
Teaching students of varying backgrounds, experiences, and readiness levels is one of the hardest aspects of education, and it is often compounded when students come to our classes one or more grade levels behind.
Why does this happen? The root causes may vary. Some students have a history of low achievement and have met with so much failure that the “job” of doing school can seem insurmountable. Others may be children of poverty with large vocabulary deficits. In some cases, these students are spending so much time in remediation that they are never exposed to grade level curriculum. How do we support students so that they are ready to meet this challenge?
In The High-Performance Learning-Focused Lesson training, you learned about the value of “chunking” concepts and skills for students in Learning Activities, while checking for their understanding using Assessment Prompts. It is during this Lesson Instruction that teachers can include appropriate scaffolding by determining what might be a Struggle Point for students during the lesson. Acceleration through previewing key vocabulary and Advance Organizers can help give students a jump start. Small group instruction, along with flexible groups and learning stations, can offer avenues for scaffolding.
What Can We Scaffold?
Content: How is content delivered?
Examples: graphic organizers (partially completed), modified text, books and lectures on tape, etc.
Process: How do students access grade-level material?
Examples: chunking of directions or processes, guided note-taking, collaborative pairings or flexible groups, etc.
Products and Assignments: How are assignments differentiated?
Examples: Readiness levels, student choice, flexible partnering and/or grouping
Learning Environments: How is the learning environment meeting the needs of all students?
Examples: learning stations, quiet zones, purposeful visual aids (anchor charts, essential questions, vocabulary word walls), etc.
The important thing to remember about scaffolding is that struggling students need it because it provides support, it is temporary, and it is well planned, but the most important thing to remember about scaffolding is that struggling students need it to be successful learners.