Revisiting the Introductory Challenge

Revisiting the Challenge

Think about the conversation you had in response to the questions presented in the Introductory Challenge. Here are the questions again:

  1. What was the best learning experience you had in school? Why do you remember it? What was different about it?
  2. What is the best teaching you have ever seen (don’t mention names or places, just describe the teaching itself—who did what and why you find it good)?
  3. What are you really good at and how did you get good at it?
  4. Have you ever learned something from a real expert—someone who was just fabulous at doing something you wanted to be able to do too? What was it like?

Often when people answer these questions, they find that their best learning experiences and those that allowed them to learn from a real expert took place outside of school. One way of looking at this common response, of course, is to conclude that school learning sometimes doesn’t get close enough to real learning.

Part of the reason for this gap, as the materials in this unit have shown, is that school learning often lacks sufficient scaffolding. Students are ready to learn one thing, but they’re required to try to learn something else. Or students almost grasp a concept but aren’t given the guidance they need in order to grasp it fully. Or students begin to get involved in learning something, and “time’s up”—the lesson or unit is over.

In this unit you learned about scaffolding. It’s a general strategy that can help educators make school learning more like real learning. To summarize some of the most important points about scaffolding the “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQs) below provide some reminders.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: What behaviors do we often see from students who need scaffolding but aren’t getting it?

A: Students who need scaffolding but aren’t getting it do not see classroom lessons as relevant. They become bored and frustrated. They often “act out.” In other words, they behave badly in order to get attention.

Q: What can you do, right now, as a paraprofessional to help provide more scaffolding to the students you work with?

A: First, you can talk to each student one-on-one about what he or she is trying to learn. Your conversation will help you figure out what’s going on. It will give you a clue about what sorts of scaffolds will be most helpful. For instance, if the student says he’s bored, you can ask if it’s the topic that bores him, or the materials. Usually, it turns out to be the materials. So then you can scaffold learning by finding materials on the topic that seem more interesting to the student. If the student says the topic is boring, you might ask about topics that are interesting to the student. New instruction works best when it starts with students’ background knowledge and self-reported interests.

Q: Whom in your school might you talk with about scaffolding?

A: The first place to start is with your supervising teacher and instructional team. If your team is less helpful than you hoped, ask your teacher for the names of the best teachers in the school. Tell your teacher why you want to talk to those teachers. Then arrange to talk with them.

Q: What makes the expert teachers of reading and math at a school “expert”? What can you learn from them?

A: Expert teachers understand what they are teaching: they know the content. In fact, they know the content very very well. They also know how to figure out where students are “hanging” with respect to the content—both in terms of students’ prior knowledge (their zone of proximal development) and their interests. Finally, expert teachers know how to create bridges between where students are hanging (i.e., students’ prior knowledge and current interests) and the new learning they hope students will acquire. And they are persistent in building new and different bridges—bridges that work for individual students and bridges that, over time, give students more control over their own learning.

Next Steps

The answers to the FAQs are general. So now you might want to think about how they apply to your own situation. The questions below will help you think about ways to learn more about using instructional scaffolding in your own work.

  1. Do you know students who are not now receiving the scaffolding that might help them learn? What are they like?
  2. What can you do to provide scaffolding to the students with whom you work?
  3. With whom can you talk more about how to use scaffolding to help students learn?
  4. What expert instructors can you observe as a way to see examples of effective scaffolding? What other things can you do to see examples of effective scaffolding?