5 Paths to Strategic Scaffolding

We all know about scaffolding. It’s the support we provide to students to perform tasks until they can do it on their own.   Very often this is expressed as I do, We do, You do or the gradual release of responsibility model. I particularly love the Explicit Teaching Model created by the Northern Territory Department of Education.  This model, based on the work of Pauline Gibbon and others includes a ‘building the field’ step which sets up language and concepts for students. I am also a bit in love with the ‘supported practice’ step and think, in general, that we don’t allow students nearly enough supported practice.

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Very often we move from the ‘we do’ to the ‘you do’ without giving students the security of having us there to jump in when we they need us, leaving them feeling a little (or a lot) unsure of themselves as they try out their new skills.   This particularly effects our students who need extra support.  These students often require more repetitions to move information from their short term to long term memories.  They usually come to a new learning experience with a degree of anxiety, which makes them hesitant to get stuck in and give things a try, a situation that is not ideal for strong learning.    So, today I want to share with you some ways that you can strengthen your use of the gradual release of responsibility model of teaching.

  1. Spend A LOT of time building the field.  There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the students in our classes come to us with varying levels of skills and knowledge.  Do not take for granted that they have a solid understanding of the prerequisite language and concepts they will need to really access your unit of work.  You can do this by showing videos, engaging in explicit vocabulary work, performing drama to bring concepts to life and mapping and sorting key ideas.  The second reason to spend a good chunk of time on building the field is to reduce the intrinsic cognitive load of tasks.  Front loading vocabulary and concepts (over a number of lessons or experiences) means that there is a smaller gap between your students’ understanding and the new learning you are presenting. (You can learn more about why this is important below)

2. Make sure that your ‘we do’ or ‘joint construction’ has every student actively involved.  Students working in small groups of 3 or 4 and then feeding back to the larger group is a great way to do this.  Make sure that every student has their own pen/pencil, not just the most competent scribe.  Even if a student contributes single words to the task, they are still contributing, which is preferable than having them sitting passively, listening to someone else talk.

3. Vary the amount of time that you provide supported practice for students. This can be tricky, because it will mean that some students have finished the task more quickly than others. Here is where differentiation of the task comes into play.  You do not want to give your more advanced students extra lower level work to do.  Consider how you can provide the opportunity for them to ‘go deep’ and apply their knowledge in new contexts (this is how you move children to an A grade).  For your students who require extra support, that support can be at the time of the lesson, but it can also take the form of additional follow up practice. For students who need more repetitions to commit things to memory, this is really important.  Spaced practice and retrieval are very effective strategies to help students move material into their long-term memories.

Learning Scientists

4. Be prepared to move backwards and forwards between phases of the model as needed.

Rather than moving through the model in just one direction, it is important to be prepared to move backwards and forwards between the phases. This is where your instinct and knowledge of the students comes in. Knowing when to step in and support and when to pull back is a part of the craft of teaching that we develop over time.  Being able to do this for different children within the same class or group in order to meet every child’s needs is the great challenge of classroom teaching.   

5. Remember to let go of modelling.  It is greatly tempting to continue to model skills for students long after they need it.  In a phonics lesson this might look like:

-Teacher displays a word with the target sound.
-They then sound out the word with the students, allowing many students to rely on the teacher’s blending.

An alternative to this is:

– Teacher displays a word with the target sound.
-Students sound out the word as a group. The teacher is silent, allowing them to watch the students to assess which students are participating with confidence.
-If the group stumbles on the word the teacher models blending.
-The students then sound out the word again as a group.

This is a subtle shift, but one that ensure that children are engaging with the materials to  maximum effect, not just following along passively.

Knowing when and how to apply the phases of the Explicit Teaching Model helps you to support your students with confidence and give you direction in planning teaching.

To find out more about how to support students in their reading development you can join my for the Supporting Struggling Readers Teach Along that begins this coming week. Find out more and book your place here.

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