01 February 2011

Give 'em a Hand

I've been involved in a few discussions this year about "scaffolding." What I find interesting is that the older the student, the less positive the reaction. There seems to be an assumption that students should just know what to do.

I understand the view---really, I do. I used to have 10th graders come to class who struggled to put a basic hypothesis today. Geez. How many science classes had they had by then? How many times had they been taught investigative design? How many models of a hypothesis had they seen or read over the years? What was wrong with these children?! But you know, it really didn't matter why they didn't develop the skill. The bottom line was that they didn't have it and I needed to help them do something about it.

Enter the Sentence Starter. It is a commonly used tool in elementary classrooms and reviled by high school. Yes, friends, I gave my students the (oft dreaded) "If ____, then ____ because ____." format. Don't be hatin' on me for that. I never required kids use it. I always had students who were able to make predictions supported by reason in a variety of ways---and that was just fine by me. But for those kids who looked like a deer in the headlights when anyone said "Hypothesis!"?  For those kids, an elementary style sentence starter was a lifesaver. They still had to learn how to fill in the blanks, but at least they weren't starting from ground zero in trying to construct a coherent thought.

A lot of what is being included during the assessment development process is modeling, and we have been kicking around the idea of adding some additional formative assessment scaffolds for teachers---both in terms of how to look at student work and think about next steps, as well as how to construct useful comments for students. I will be interested to hear how this is received in future months. As with any proper scaffold, we have no "musts." If you're comfy with what you're doing, then you go, girl/guy. If you're a n00b and want a hand up, we'll reach out to you.

Scaffolds become troubling when they are promoted as The Magic Formula. When they are used as a requirement, then there can be some stifling of creativity and ownership in developing a skill. But as an option? Why wouldn't you use them to help backfill some basics or provide a sample until there is readiness to move forward?

1 comment:

Hugh O'Donnell said...

How many kids internalize "the scientific method"?

Giving them prompts that brings out the knowledge sounds kinda Platonic, dontcha think?

Plato was a pretty decent teacher, and Aristotle would agree. ;-)

Sock it to 'em, SG!