Scaffolding – More than just ‘modelling’

Confession time – I’m an erratic reader.  I tend to flit between novels and picture books, biographies and thrillers, professional reads and poetry.  I like variety and I usually go where the mood takes me when I’m choosing something new to read.  I enjoy the reckless abandon that is my style of book-selection as the rest of my life is so orderly (or, at least, I try to make it as such)! Inspiration can hit you at the most unexpected of times.  I came across this section of text when recently reading Us by David Nicholls :

‘Raising Albie accentuated the differences between us.  She was, to my mind, absurdly informal and laissez-faire.  She imagined a child as an unopened flower; a parent had a responsibility to provide light and water, but also to stand back and watch.  In contrast, I saw no reason why the flower should not be bracketed to a bamboo stick, pruned, exposed to artificial light; if it made for a stronger, more resilient plant.  Why not?’

Immediately, this made me think back to one of my favourite Christmas films (very popular in the US but, apparently, not so much in the UK!) – A Christmas Story.  There’s a scene where Alfie and his brother are gearing up to walk to school in snowy weather.  His younger brother is so well-bundled that he can hardly move.  At one point, his mum tries to push his arms down and they spring back up.  Just look at his expression!


This made me think in more depth about how we interact with pupils in our classrooms. Where would I fall on this continuum?  How do I develop pupils as independent, resilient learners who have a range of strategies to self-regulate their own learning?

This then brought my mind to the idea of ‘scaffolding’ – but what does this actually mean?  The definition describes scaffolding as a ‘temporary structure.’  I think that word ‘temporary’ is pivotal.  What temporary guidance is needed to encourage pupils as they move towards independence?  What form will the scaffold take – modelling? focused questioning?  peer feedback? self-talk? think-aloud? visual displays/ resources? prompting/cluing into known strategies? guiding? We are there to provide models, prompts and reminders for pupils as ‘nudges’ along their journey to independence.  We want them to arrive at that destination – it’s our job to keep them on track; however, learning doesn’t happen in a straight line and we need to be prepared for detours!

Rob Webster has some brilliant information on his website detailing how teaching assistants can be instrumental in effective scaffolding.  There’s a useful article here entitled ‘Scaffolding Learning for Independence’  and much more on the MITA website. In their book, Maximising the Impact of Teaching Assistants, Rob Webster, Anthony Russell and Peter Blatchford suggest that ‘scaffolding has become merged with help, differentiation and support (however)… scaffolding describes the ways adults provide structured help so the pupil can reach a specific goal… what is important is that you ask well-timed and appropriate diagnostic questions and observe the progress of the pupil during the task… these are your cues for calibrating.’ (pg. 44)

The EEF’s Guidance Report: Improving Literacy in KS1 offers (pg. 13) that ‘Children need to be introduced to and then practice skills with feedback from the teacher and their peers… The teacher should provide appropriate initial support that is gradually reduced so the child is ultimately capable of completing the activity independently.’

The EEF’s Improving Literacy in KS2 report adds information regarding the ‘gradual release of responsibility model’ (pg. 12): 1. an explicit description of the strategy and when and how it should be used; 2. modelling of the strategy in action by teachers and/or pupils; 3. collaborative use of the strategy in action; 4. guided practice using the strategy with gradual release of responsibility; and 5. independent use of the strategy.

Furthermore, the TSC ‘s Effective Primary Teaching Practice review in 2016 by Dame Reena Keeble highlights ‘sensible principles that make for effective teaching’ including: ‘review previous learning; explain and introduce new content in small chunk; model skills; provide opportunity to practise; review.'(pg. 19)

So what does this all mean, in practice? How can we translate what the research says into what happens in the classroom?  Research clearly states that modelling is essential, however, I’d like to offer the idea that modelling isn’t enough.  We need to think about how modelling fits into the overall process of effective scaffolding: supporting pupils’ journey to independence. With this in mind, I’ve developed this conceptual framework which I use on my training courses:

mountain scaffolding capture

Those of you who know me know that I do love a metaphor, so buckle up…

What kind of a mountain does the child have to climb? (What is the task? Complexity? Pupils’ prior knowledge?)  What guidance might they need before they start to climb?  What reminders might they need when they are in the middle of a climb? What’s my role as the teacher (For this task, do I need to be a ‘static rope’ – quite rigid and firm, providing lots of support OR do I need to be a ‘dynamic rope’ – flexible, using questioning, prompting and clueing to effectively support pupils towards self-regulation?)  What other equipment do they have that might help them to get to the top? (peer support? feedback? visual prompts? environmental resources?) Are they clear of the destination?  How have they planned their route? (metacognition and self-regulation)

In a few weeks, I will be attending the Third Space Event with the Chartered College – The Science of Learning.  I’m looking forward to hearing new insights from professionals across the country and from over the pond (we can compare American accents!).  Also, just on the horizon (due April 2018) is the EEF’s new Guidance Report: Metacognition and Self-Regulation.  Watch this space…

I finish with a thought regarding one of the favourite toys in my house… Lego.  Remember when Lego used to be a box of mixed pieces which opened up young imaginations to new possibilities?  Now, when we buy Lego, it is almost always as part of a ‘set’ with clear, step-by-step instructions of how to assemble.  Which version do you prefer?

If you would like to discuss any of what you’ve read on my blog further, please email me or get in touch via Twitter @kashleyenglish.  Hope to hear from you soon!

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