Scaffolding: Not just for construction workers...

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Yesterday, I shared some questions that I often use to help create an atmosphere of thinking in my classroom. Unfortunately, when I ask a student to explain their reasoning, they often aren’t able to reflect back on their thought process and verbalize what took place. In some cases, the best they can come up with is “it just popped into my head.”

In order to train students how to do this, I scaffold the process for them at first to give them a structure within which they can build their own responses. They need to learn three skills to allow this to happen:

  1. Focus on the process before they start
  2. Monitor their reasoning as they are working
  3. Reflect back and explain to someone else what they were thinking

Each of these skills needs to be modeled and practiced, and students need many opportunities to use them. These thinking skills are learned best when they are integrated into the regular flow of instruction rather than explicitly taught as discrete topics. One way to do that is to build one or more of these scaffolding activities into every lesson:

  • Think-Alouds
  • Leveled problems
  • Graphic organizers (e.g. T-chart)
  • Using “magic words” that students can use which require explanation of reasoning
  • Asking prompt questions (such as those in yesterday’s post)
  • Give part of the solution, then have students complete it
  • Give the answer, students write the solution
  • Give the explanation, students write the solution
  • Give the solution, students write the explanation
  • Checklists or mnemonics to aid recall of processes
  • Journals to practice informal writing about problem solving
  • Vocabulary games to build language skills and improve communication about reasoning
  • Allow students to rewrite weak explanations to improve them
  • Show sample student papers that demonstrate good skills
  • Teach students to score responses using a rubric
  • Have students score their own work or a partner’s work
  • Trade papers with another class and have students score
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