In a recent discussion with a friend, we talked about meeting the needs of our highly diverse students. We talked about the difficulties some people seem to have with understanding the need to scaffold work for students.
The discussion reminded me of when I was a student teacher way back when and my faculty associate, at the time, was commenting on one of my lessons she had just observed. If I recall correctly, it was my first practicum – in a Grade 1 classroom – in October or November. I had the students completing a writing activity about a book we had read. Some students were very successful with the activity, while others, well, not so much. The writing activity was pretty open-ended, but, in hindsight, may have been a tad overwhelming for some of the most struggling learners. During my post conference with my Faculty Associate, I recall her saying, in passing, that I needed to do more scaffolding for my students. OK, well, I was pretty young – probably only 21 or 22 at the time and, to be honest, I had no idea what she was talking about. It was not something my Sponsor Teacher and I had talked about and it was not something we had really talked about in our pre-service classes.
In time, I figured out what “scaffolding” meant and how to do scaffold for various learners. I wonder though, do all teachers know what “scaffolding” is? Do they understand the importance of scaffolding for our learners. It is through scaffolding that even our learners with the most challenges can actually succeed in an activity. The way a teacher scaffolds can be what “makes” or “breaks” the success of a child. Yeah, it’s THAT important.
Here are some site that talk about scaffolding and ways to scaffold for students:
This reminds me of another experience I had when teaching last year (2011/2012). I taught prep. for teachers – meaning I taught their class while they had time for preparation of their work. I taught Health and Career Education for Grade 6 and French for Grade 5. We had a great deal of fun that year (all of us, including myself). Each term, the curriculum was rather directed by me though, with some time to do Genius Hour projects at the end of each term. The last term, while we still had a lot of fun, was different. I wanted to give my students more freedom to explore some of the curriculum on their own and see what they came up with. We focused on a couple of Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLO’s) in the Grade 5 French class.
It is expected that students will:
• identify elements of their own cultural backgrounds
• identify elements of Francophone culture in Canada
You can find the Provincial Prescribed Learning Outcome document here.
So, instead of having teacher-directed lessons discussing the elements of the Francophone culture in Canada and comparing it to our own cultural backgrounds, I handed the PLO’s to the students and let gave them ownership over how they wanted to explore these topics and how they wanted to demonstrate their learning. Even though we had opportunities to do Genius Hour throughout the year, it was still pretty foreign to them to have complete ownership over their own learning.
They choose to work on their own or with a partner or in small groups. Many of them quickly started doing research online. They constructed, they drew, they compared and contrasted. They designed webpages, wikis, prezis, keynotes, powerpoints and even posters. Most of the students were really loving the freedom to explore and were thinking about different ways they wanted to share their learning. Others, well, other students struggled with this freedom.
While I am all for giving students choice and having them take ownership over their learning, some students just need more scaffolding to be successful in these more open learning opportunities. Looking around the room, it was pretty clear to see which students were struggling with the task at hand. It was too open for them – too free. They didn’t know where to start. They didn’t know what to do. For some of those students, we discussed their background knowledge of their own culture and of the Francophone culture in Canada. We orally compared and contrasted and brainstormed. This was all that some of the students needed to come up with ideas to move on with their learning.
For others, they simply needed even more direction. These students struggled greatly with learning disabilities (diagnosed and undiagnosed), a disinterest in all things French, and some other learning issues. These students needed even more scaffolding. For some of them, I had them use the program Inspiration to organize their thoughts on the topic (Popplet on the iPad is great for this as well and very similar). We would brainstorm the titles together and they would complete the rest of the brainstorming on their own. For other students, I made a grid for them to fill in comparing their culture with the Francophone culture. In this grid, we would include topics like Food, Clothing, Celebrations, Language, etc…
As a result of these various methods of scaffolding, all students were able to be successful with the activity and each student was able to own their own learning at their own level. It was a very positive experience for everyone.
So, my message would be to be careful and remember that we have classes filled with very diverse learners who will need various methods of scaffolding to ensure their success. While most students will thrive in this learning environment, some of our students may not be able to cope very well with too much choice or with expectations that are too open. It is so important to observe and ask questions of your students to really determine their amount of comfort and to determine if they require additional support/scaffolding in order to be successful.
This may all sound very obvious to many, but I hope this post helps a few people who may struggle with the area of meeting our diverse learners in our classrooms.
What do you do to scaffold for your students?