Build Your Students Up with Scaffolding

Build Your Students Up with Scaffolding

By Taru Nieminen            December 29, 2016

Photo by Alexandre Chambon

Next time you’re out on the town, take a long look at the buildings and bridges you see. They are all built with scaffolding. The shear amount of support it takes for a building to stand up and for a bridge to hang there in mid air is crazy to think about. Yet, year after year, there they stand. On the support constructed which holds each brick and steel beam in place.

The same goes for your students: they need a step, then another, climbing upwards and onward, reaching for the sky in their learning adventure!

Scaffolding takes many forms, some new, some old as teaching itself. Scaffolding is especially important for struggling students. They struggle for hundreds of different reasons.

Some don’t understand the concept (whether abstract or concrete) in the first place, so they’re through, done, and frustrated before you even start. One doesn’t possess the needed schema, another lacks the reading ability, and yet another is strictly a visual learner at this point.

The last one can be remedied with differentiated instruction, although it may take some time. Just think of all the product choices you are laying in front of your students. When this student picks a visual project, you can ask him or her to then write a description of the drawing, for instance. Or record the description in verbal form. Of course the student will always be a visual learner, but now he understands that he can succeed with other forms of activities as well.

Forms of Scaffolding

Scaffolding takes many forms: modeling, leveled reading materials, graphic organizers, manipulatives, modified directions and stations. Some agree that it is part of differentiation, and some disagree with their view that it is pre-learning. Either way, it benefits the student, so that’s all there’s to it.

Let’s start with modeling.

Modeling takes the form the teacher showing students the way to the final product, sometimes outright with an example product, or just showing how to do the task at hand. Modeling can be viewed as copying. So the student sees firsthand what is expected. Think of science class: the teacher models how the experiment will be conducted. Language: the teacher shows the way the vocabulary table works. Math: the teacher solves a similar problem on the board. And so on.

Leveled Reading: Not Just for Elementary School

Leveled reading materials are encouraged for all subjects, although the most prevalent and easiest to find are for English and other language classes. With all the online quizzes nowadays, your students can take an easy test to show you what their grade level in reading is. And not just that, there are even websites like Newsela where students can choose articles based on their exact reading level.

Chunking Topics with Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers facilitate the learning of new concepts and ensures each student understands the essential parts of your lesson. It is easy for you to check for understanding as all information is chunked into smaller pieces. Use only a few types, otherwise it can get confusing. I love finding new graphic organizers, but have found that using the same two vocabulary tables (give the students a choice here!) for the entire year is much more productive for all involved.

The “Muscle Memory” of Differentiation

Manipulatives have been used since forever. They’re different types of tools which make it easy to teach abstract topics with hands-on activities. Most often they’re used in math and science, but there are many for language arts and social studies as well. They include base ten blocks, relief maps, activity and playing cards, pattern blocks, counters (of all kinds), dice, puzzles, – so anything that can be used interactively as a tool for learning.

Manipulatives lets the student play with the concept before there is a lecture. Think about Kindergarteners and what they do all day: Play! And they learn at the same time. It’s all about muscle memory as well: your body will remember when you “do.”

Be Ultra Specific with Directions

Be specific. Modified directions should be part of everyday teaching. Giving students vague directions kills the entire lesson. I’ll say it again: be specific. List every step, give it a number or a bullet, and make sure a student’s imagination can’t “change” the directions. And always ask if the students have understood the directions. This is easily done with several students explaining the directions in their own words.  And after that, restate the directions.

Heaven for Struggling Students

Stations are often viewed as part of elementary education and that’s where they usually stay. Nothing should be farther from the truth. Stations let you work with a small group of struggling students while others are engaged in quality activities throughout the classroom. This takes a little bit of setting up (skip to slide 30 for implementation) and guidelines need to be followed, but it is well worth it. Here’s a really long (84 PDF pages!) yet thorough explanation— skip to page 25 to start implementation.

What are some activities you’ve used in your classroom? Leave a comment below. Thanks!

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