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How to scaffold challenging learning tasks

posted Nov 7, 2014, 10:21 PM by HSD Principal
In this Edutopia article, Rebecca Alber gives an example of an assignment that’s not scaffolded: “Read this nine-page science article, write a detailed essay on the topic it explores, and turn it in by Wednesday.” So what does good scaffolding look like? It’s not the same as differentiation, says Alber. “With differentiation, you may give a child an entirely different piece of text to read, you might shorten the text or alter it, and you may modify the writing assignment that follows… Scaffolding is breaking up the learning into chunks and then providing a tool, or structure, with each chunk… Simply put, scaffolding is what you do first with kids, then for those students who are still struggling, you may need to differentiate by modifying an assignment and/or making accommodations for a student.”

Scaffolding and differentiation have this in common: you have to know the collective or individual “zone of proximal development” – the distance between what students can do by themselves and what they’ll need support on. Alber suggests the following scaffolding strategies:

• Show and tell – Providing a model of what students are being asked to produce is an excellent way to set them up for success. This might be an exemplar of a good persuasive essay, the teacher doing a think-aloud of the thought process involved in the learning activity, or a small group of students doing the activity in a “fishbowl” with other students watching. “Remember that children’s cognitive abilities are still in development,” says Alber, “so providing opportunities for them to see developed, critical thinking is essential.”

• Tapping into prior knowledge – Have students share their own experiences, ideas, and hunches about the subject matter, making connections to their own lives.

• Time to talk – Think-pair-share, turn-and-talk, triad teams, or some other form of structured talking time gives students a chance to process new ideas and information.

• Frontloading vocabulary – This can be dreary (look up the words in a dictionary), but it can be very helpful if a few well-chosen words are introduced with visuals, analogies, and metaphors linked to things students know about.

• Visual aids – Graphic organizers, pictures, and charts are excellent scaffolding tools, says Alber. “Graphic organizers are very specific in that they help kids visually represent their ideas, organize information, and grasp concepts such as sequencing and cause and effect.”

• Processing in real time – Alber suggests presenting a chunk of new material, pausing to ask a well-formulated question, giving students think time (perhaps conferring with another student), and then asking someone to give the gist of the idea.

Won’t scaffolding take too much time? Alber acknowledges that it takes more time than just giving students an assignment, but she argues that teachers need to slow down to get better results – so scaffolding ends up saving time. “[T]he end product is of far greater quality and the experience much more rewarding for all involved,” she says.


“6 Scaffolding Strategies to Use with Your Students” by Rebecca Alber in Edutopia, January 24, 2014, http://bit.ly/1qlsFuj


Except taken from Marshall Memo 559, November 2, 2014
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