Importance of Scaffolding

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.

02 03 11 washing  34/365The 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:

Scaffolding Instructional Strategies

Six Scaffolding Strategies to Use with Your Students

Zone of Proximal Development

Knowledge is Power  05/14/11   134/365This 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.

06 19 11 bye sis  170/365For 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?

Published by Tia M. Dawson

There are many things that define who I am as a person. First of all, I am a mother of 3 wonderful children! I can not express how fortunate we are to have our children in our life! Secondly, I am an elementary educator who recently returned to the classroom after 12+ years as an elementary school administrator. Lastly, I am passionate about helping others, learning about abuse, helping others in abusive relationships, and helping others understand their worth.

6 thoughts on “Importance of Scaffolding

  1. One of the things I noticed, as I learned to develop scaffolding, is that so often those structures built to help the weakest students also helped other students develop their ideas and understanding of what we were doing. The only trick was not to over scaffold and give students crutches rather than support. Overall though, I think many teachers, and many open-ended assignments that we are seeing more of, could benefit from some thoughtful scaffolding.
    Great post! 🙂

    1. Hi Dave,

      Absolutely! It is so important to realize that those structures we use for our neediest learners do often help all learners. It also important though not to scaffold too much for our students (unless that is what they need to succeed) because recent research has concluded that too much direction actually limits our students and they end up doing just what is asked and no more, thus not challenging themselves.

      It’s a real dance, isn’t it?

      Thanks for reading and commenting, but moreso, thanks for the inspirational conversation.

  2. It was a great conversation!

    I did this presentation back in ’08:
    It is not pretty because I didn’t use Creative Commons photos, so I had to take them all out to share it online. I’ve said for years that I need to rebuild it… You might just have given me the inspiration!

    It’s a different conversation, and yet doesn’t take away from the importance of scaffolding, that not just scaffolding, but even criteria can inhibit what students do. Gord Holden talks about removing all criteria when students are soaring in his immersive technology environments (3D worlds that students construct). He says that kids who soar in his class actually do less, and just enough to meet his criteria, whereas when he removes the criteria, they go well beyond his expectations. So, this dance of providing scaffolding that is necessary, but not over-helpful, will actually get harder as we create more complex and challenging learning opportunities. As far as the dance goes, it’s a little daunting and a whole lot exciting! 🙂

    1. Yes! Daunting and exciting! Overwhelming and exhilarating!

      I think you should totally rebuild your presentation. Looks like it would be great! 🙂

      Looking forward to seeing it.

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