Podcast for Teachers: Scaffolding for Engagement in Complexity - Steve Barkley

Podcast for Teachers: Scaffolding for Engagement in Complexity

Scaffolding for Engagement in Complexity

Acceleration and equity require teachers to provide ALL students with engagement in on grade-level or above, complex learning tasks. Too little or too much scaffolding prevents students from gaining the needed learning opportunities. Consider when you might be rescuing students rather than scaffolding. Consider why just-in-time scaffolding is important.

Read the article, “Just-in-Time vs Just-in-Case Scaffolding: How to Foster Productive Perseverance” here.
Read the article, “Are you Scaffolding or Rescuing” here.
Listen to the podcast “Rough Draft Math” here.

Subscribe to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast on iTunes or visit BarkleyPD.com to find new episodes!


Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello and welcome to the Teacher edition of Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud. The complexity of teaching is both challenging and rewarding and my curiosity is peaked whenever I explore with teachers, the multiple pathways for facilitating student engagement in the exciting world of learning. This podcast looks to serve teachers as they motivate and support their learners. Thanks for listening. I’m delighted that you’re here.

Steve: 00:32 Scaffolding for engagement in complexity. Acceleration is the term that we’re using to describe the learning experience needed for closing learning gaps or making up for what some folks are labeling as “learning loss.” Equity requires that all of our students have the opportunity to engage in learning tasks with the high complexity of strategic thinking and experiencing learning struggle. Increasing complexity means increasing the number of cognitive steps or elements that are involved in a task. So think about multiple-step mathematic word problems or the secondary English teacher I worked with who had students write what she called argumentative essays that listen because the students had to describe how someone thinking opposite of their opinion would interpret the text that they were using for support and they had to include the strengths of the argument that people would hold on the other side.

Steve: 02:01 So if students are going to learn at maximum levels at acceleration, they need to be able to engage in on-grade level or higher complex tasks. Too often, students not yet making expected progress are provided too few opportunities to engage in strategic thinking and problem solving. They tend to be focused on lower complexity tasks – tasks that are designed to build fluency or stamina, which are important, but are insufficient for accelerating the learning process. Scaffolding frequently needs to be provided to allow all students to engage in grade level or above complex learning activities. The term, scaffolding, was pulled from the construction/building area. Scaffolding is described in building or in construction as a temporary structure for holding workers or materials during the erection of the building, the repair or decoration of a building.. That term applied means that teachers are assisting in considering how they temporarily build structures and guidance to support student learning.

Steve: 03:39 As I explore scaffolding with teachers, I find two concerns. One, I would call the lack of necessary scaffolding at times. You can find students in an independent activity where they have insufficient understanding and background to engage in the independent task. However, just as often or maybe even more often, I find what I’ve been labeling as over scaffolding.” Over scaffolding is interfering with students being able to engage in the elements of the learning tasks that are most likely to cause the greatest increase in their learning – areas that often would be labeled as struggling. As I’ve searched to explore what might lead to over scaffolding, I’ve identified that it might be our desire to focus on the students reaching the shorter term outcome. Anxious to have the student be successful in achieving that short term outcome, I provide scaffolding too soon, too often, or another is that knowing some of my students need scaffolding to engage in the activity, I end up scaffolding the entire class.

Steve: 05:10 An example being, a class period beginning with a review and practice of yesterday’s teaching, which some of the students may require a scaffolding, but by doing it with the whole class, I’m preventing students who could engage without the scaffolding being able to do so. The more I’ve thought about it, I’ve pondered whether the analogy of the scaffold from construction is an inappropriate one for us to take on because that scaffolding is present in order to get to the outcome. And the scaffolding comes down only when the outcome has been achieved. In learning, it’s important that students struggle at the right level because it’s that struggle that’s going to produce the maximum amount of learning. In many cases, a teacher needs to start instructing without having the scaffolding in place.

Steve: 06:28 And then, only by observing the student effort and the student initial signs of progress, where the student struggle and the student frustration, can the teacher now make decisions about the appropriate degree of scaffolding to provide. I found two articles and the links to both are in the lead-in to this podcast that support this thinking process that I need as a teacher looking at providing scaffolding. The first was written by Dr. Julie Dixon and the title of her piece is, “Just in Time Vs. Just in Case Scaffolding: How to Foster Productive Perseverance.” My challenge as a teacher is to provide scaffolding that students need at the appropriate time. Dr. Dixon writes, “when you provide scaffolding just in case students need it, rather than just in time, that is, when students demonstrate the need, you’re failing to provide the rigor that today’s learning standards demand.

Steve: 07:53 When you provide scaffolding to students before they have the opportunity to make sense of a challenging task on their own, without extra help, they are inhibited from developing productive, perseverance, an outcome that we all need to be seeking. The teacher providing too much scaffolding on the front end is in effect decreasing the cognitive demand of the activity and therefore decreasing learning options.” In an earlier podcast with Amanda Jansen, the author of Rough Draft Math, she explained how having students do rough drafts as they approach a math problem can create a a safe environment where they can engage in the struggle first on their own, and then with the teacher being able to identify just the right amount of scaffolding that is needed to get the student to continue with perseverance to seek additional learning. Listen to her explanation.

Amanda : 09:16 So if you say to a student, I just wanna hear your rough draft about this, it does a lot of things. It sort of reduces, takes the air out of the pressure balloon.. Like, “oh, I just have to say whatever’s on my mind? My rough draft’s gonna be okay here?” Yeah. And you can talk with students about how do we learn anything. We make an attempt. We make sense out of what we tried. Then we try again, this is how we learn a lot of things in life so why can’t we learn math that way? And so asking students to share their initial drafts, talking with them about why that’s a useful thing to do to share your drafts, it just creates this safer space where whatever you have to say, we’re gonna try to learn from it and it’s gonna have value and it’s gonna have merit and you’re gonna have a chance to then revise that idea. You’re not gonna be frozen in time by whatever you say right now, you’re not gonna be judged for being right or wrong. We’re just trying to figure stuff out together.

Steve: 10:11 What impact are you looking at that having on, on student math performance?

Amanda : 10:17 Yeah. So it does a few things. For one thing, it helps students have a bigger view of the discipline of math. What is mathematics anyway? What does it mean to know and do math? Whenever I talk about rough draft math with mathematicians, they say, well, this is what we do when we are trying to solve a problem that we’re not sure about. We try it, we think about what we’ve tried, we try again, because we don’t know what the answer’s gonna be or what the solution’s gonna be, or what is their appropriate proof or argument. And so students rethink what math even is. So that’s one really positive outcome. Another is that if students are asked to talk or write about why math makes sense, like explain why something is true or define a concept, it changes the learning goals from you’re doing more than trying to get an answer quickly, you’re trying to understand a concept.

Amanda : 11:07 So students have opportunities to develop more of sense-making and conceptual understanding if they’re being pushed to draft and revise their thinking. So the nature of knowledge opens up to be more than procedures. You definitely want students to calculate correctly, but you want them to understand why it’s working. And so rough drafting allows you to get into that space of why something is true. And then ultimately, students are developing more positive identities because they start to see the merit and value in their emerging ideas, that their thinking has potential and that people can learn from their emerging, imperfect, unfinished ideas and so they feel more valued as a thinker and learner. And then they’re more persistent and they’re more willing to put in effort because they realize that their thinking has merit and has strengths in it. And people are not used to that in math. People are used to feeling like they’re either a math person or they’re not, and that’s not true. Everyone is a mathematical thinker. So we wanna create environments where they can recognize that they can think mathematically.

Steve: 12:13 The second article that I found was by Terry Thomas and the title is, “Are you Scaffolding or Rescuing?” He reinforced for me a picture that had been forming in my mind that effective scaffolding was really more like a a dance or a improv. Thomas’s writing with a focus on teachers of reading. He writes, “true scaffolding takes an in depth knowledge of readers, as well as the instructional practices that will most benefit them. And it involves a seamless, almost art like dance to the beats of varying levels of support. A dance that is different for each student and one where the steps can change based on the needs of the reader and the focus of the instruction.” He continues – “As instructors, we may take the lead in this stance, determine that our readers will eventually move to the captivating melodies of reading and writing on their own and without our guidance.

Steve: 13:33 But, and here’s the critical, we know that if we take too many missteps or we lead too much, we may create readers who can’t on their own or worse – don’t want to dance at all.” In Thomas’s article, you’ll find a chart that compares and contrast scaffolding and rescuing behaviors. He also provides these 10 questions that can be considered indicators that you are taking on rescuing behaviors and thus interfering with scaffolding. Do you often find the momentum of your lesson waning without a good reason? Do you find yourself physically holding the text, turning the pages and pointing to difficult parts as your readers sit back, physically uninvolved? Are you exhausted after a lesson? Are you doing most of the talking? Are you avoiding challenging students for fear of where that challenge might take you? Is it difficult for you to allow students to work through a challenging text on their own?

Steve: 14:57 Could your wait time be extended? Do you struggle to take notes on student reading because you are too busy doing the reader’s work for them? Do you generally ask close-ended questions? Do you machine gun students with follow up questions, not allowing them time to share their thinking? And lastly, do you have difficulty keeping a lesson focused? As I read through the elements of rescuing. It took me back to the comments I made earlier in the podcast that I believe we can drift in that direction because we’re focused on the student’s immediate success and we really need to be scaffolding for students longer term success. As I’m processing this through the eyes of a teacher planning, I believe that I’m probably better to err on the side of under scaffolding because I can always come back and make a decision to add more support as I’m observing the student, rather than over scaffolding, which I may be getting students to a more successful outcome quicker, but denying them the opportunity to learn through the struggling process. Teaching sure is demanding and requires lots of decision making on the spot. Scaffolding may be a great topic to encourage a peer to visit your classroom or you visiting the classroom of a peer and focus on that teacher to student interaction of scaffolding. A great discussion point for you and colleagues to join in on. Appreciate your listening. And I’d love to hear your thinking about what you find as you address scaffolding in your classroom. Thanks for listening.

Steve [Outro]: 17:27 Thanks for listening in, folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter at Steve Barkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs@barkleypd.com.

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