Blogs of the week and Research Pods – 3: Scaffolding.

Blog of the week: Scaffolding (1).

The focus for this week and next is SCAFFOLDING and is one of the principles in the What Makes Great Teaching model at Reigate School. Scaffolding is an all-encompassing term for the support we provide in class to ensure that all students are given the chance to achieve our intended outcomes. Modelling can also be part of this, and I will save that for after half term! However in this week’s blog, Mark Enser, writing in the TES, examines the role of scaffolding, as well as giving some concrete examples from his own geography classroom. He asserts that good scaffolding can help with: getting students to engage in the task; simplifying the task by breaking it into easier stages, maintaining interest in the task, drawing attention to the most relevant parts of the task and modelling solutions to the task. The link to the blog is below – I will examine what the field of cognitive science and educational research has to say to support the use of scaffolding in the Research Pod section to follow.

Research Pod: Scaffolding (1).

If we return to one of the most influential pieces of research once more, that of Barak Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction, originally published in 1968 but latterly abridged and re-published in 2012, we can see that scaffolding and indeed breaking new material into small ‘chunks’ are two of his key principles. The link for his paper is provided again, below. Rosenshine observed that these two aspects of teaching played a key part in the lessons of the teachers who were obtaining the best results. In his paper, he states that:

‘Investigators have successfully provided students with scaffolds or instructional supports, to help them learn difficult tasks. A scaffold is a temporary support that is used to assist a learner. These scaffolds are gradually withdrawn as learners become more competent, although students may continue to rely on scaffolds when they encounter particularly difficult problems. Providing scaffolds is a form of guided practice. The process of helping students solve difficult problems by modelling and providing scaffolds has been called ‘cognitive apprenticeship’. Students learn strategies and content during this apprenticeship that enable them to become competent readers, writers and problem solvers. They are aided by a master who models, coaches, provides supports and scaffolds them as they become independent.’

If we look at what cognitive science has to say about scaffolding and how the human brain learns, we know that Cognitive Load Theory as described by John Sweller, states that as teachers, we should be seeking to reduce intrinsic load – the load placed on the working memory when tasks are too difficult or complex. Scaffolding has vital role to play in this. If a student is using up all of their working memory on trying to make sense of a complex task or new material, little space is left for actually understanding what they are tackling and for linking it to previously learnt content in their long term memory, which is vital for learning to take place. Students are novice learners and not experts in our field as we are, so by providing a range of support in class, students are able to better understand and enjoy learning, which of course also leads to increased motivation to want to learn even more going forward!

Blog of the week: Scaffolding (2)

This week, we take our second look at the concept of scaffolding to support all students meet the aims of our lessons. Scaffolding can take many forms, and can be done through questioning or modelling, for example, both of which are separate strands of the ‘What makes great teaching at Reigate School?’ model. We’ll have a look at each of those in the coming weeks, so I’m conscious of not straying into other strands prematurely!

However, one focus that hopefully is of interest is the changing view we now have of the definition of differentiation. So this week’s blog looks at how we can support all students of varying levels of prior attainment through the lens of scaffolding rather than the more fixed method of providing work on many different levels, which many say can hold students back rather than move them forward. Along with creating unnecessary workload for teachers! Last year, myself and Pete Bowdery were lucky enough to attend a conference partly hosted by Tom Sherrington (more from him in the Research Pod!) One of the over riding thoughts that the conference left me with was that if we never give students the chance to attempt the more challenging work, how do we ever know they cannot do it? Here’s the link to the blog:

4 Steps To Ditching Differentiation

Research Pod: scaffolding (2)

One of Rosenshine’s Principles is to ‘provide scaffolds for difficult tasks.’ Tom Sherrington, author of ‘The Learning Rainforest’ and former headteacher has written an excellent and very succinct book outlining what each of the principles can look like in the classroom, entitled ‘Rosenshine’s Principles in Action.’ (Copies can be found in the CPD library in the LRC at school). As previously discussed, Rosenshine sought to identify what it was that the most successful teachers regularly did in their lessons. So this week’s Pod will take a dip into that book and have a look at a few of the things Tom identifies as examples of scaffolding. Tom starts by saying:

‘Rosenshine tells us that it can be important for students to undergo a form of ‘cognitive apprenticeship’ whereby they learn cognitive strategies from a master teacher teacher who models, coaches and supports them as they develop a level of independence. The key is that the scaffolds are temporary; they support the development of a cognitive process but are withdrawn so that students don’t become reliant on them. This is a form of guided practice as a precursor to independent practice. All of the ideas in the fourth principle (‘provide models’) can be used as temporary scaffolds that are later withdrawn.’

Tom then goes on to give examples of methods of scaffolding, including: writing frames (for example, in Humanities, we use ‘PEEL’ – point, evidence, explain, link back to the question); exemplars (produced by previous students or the teacher); strategic thinking (guiding students through tackling a problem) and anticipating errors and misconceptions (perhaps through providing students with a checklist of common errors, and anticipating and teaching these ideas directly, so that, as he says, students are able to form a more complete schema for the relevant topic). Tom makes it very clear, however, that as students progress and become more proficient, that scaffolds should be removed. And of course, different students will meet this point at different times, depending on a range of factors. Nevertheless, the days of producing worksheets on three different levels for every lesson that we teach are behind us, meaning that all students can be given the chance of high levels of success, and our time better spent planning for high quality teaching in the classroom.

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