We all want our children to continually read more and more difficult texts. When a text is just a tad difficult for your child to read independently then we help them through scaffolding strategies.
Scaffolding in education is similar to creating a structure used by construction workers to continually move higher and higher up the side of a building. Scaffolds are temporary structures used to support people and equipment and have been around since ancient times.
Scaffolds in education are similar. In education, scaffolding refers to a variety of instructional techniques used to move students progressively toward stronger understanding, and ultimately, greater independence in the learning process. The term itself offers the relevant descriptive metaphor: teachers provide successive levels of temporary support that help students reach higher levels of comprehension and skill acquisition that they would not be able to achieve without assistance. Like physical scaffolding, the supportive strategies are incrementally removed when they are no longer needed, and the teacher gradually shifts more responsibility over the learning process to the student. (Definition taken from the Glossary of Education Reform.)
Scaffolding is breaking up the work into smaller chucks and providing some teaching prior to giving the student the text or assigning a chapter to read.
Some scaffolding strategies include:
- Show and Tell – seeing and hearing something about a new topic is often a helpful technique.
- Provide some discussion time after reading a section – perhaps even before reading the section. Take a look at the chapter title, section headings, side bars, illustrations, charts, graphs – anything. Discussing these provide support for the reader.
- Use graphic organizers to help children see relationships with the information.
- Read a section, discuss it, review it, predict it, summarize it, illustrate it – anything that makes the reader interact with the new information.
- Read the first chapter of a book and discuss it with your child. Much information about the characters, plot, setting, motivations, writer’s voice are found in the first chapter. Sometimes having this chapter read aloud will help with motivation and general understanding of where the book is headed.
- Explain and illustrate concepts in a wide variety of ways. Sometimes the way the teacher (or the parent/teacher) understands something is very different from the child’s style of learning.
- When a text, story or concept is new, support the child by providing an introduction to the book or the content to be studied. This can be done in variety of ways – make it as interesting as you can in order to capture your child’s interest.
- Pre-teach difficult or new vocabulary. When the child sees this new word in a story, confidence as well as comprehension increases because they already know its meaning. Sometimes when there are too many new words the child can easily be overwhelmed and comprehension plummets.
- Clearly describe what is to be learned and why. Sometimes giving the child a purpose for learning something can help.
- What are the goals they need to work toward? Many children work better when they know when they have reached a target.
- Relate the new text or information to something they already know – prior knowledge from experience or taught in a previous lesson. Connecting prior knowledge is essential to retaining new knowledge.
- Sometimes it helps to let the child listen to the audio version of the book that is really hard. Then later, the child can read the book. Be careful here! It can backfire since listening to books is so much easier than putting in the work to read and learn the information on their own!
Another technique often used is to provide the struggling student with an easier book on the same topic. This can be helpful since it may also provide some missing vocabulary and fill in some gaps in the students “prior knowledge” of the subject. One thing to keep in mind however, is that this simpler book is just that – simpler. In order to help a child continue to increase their comprehension and reading ability, they also need to learn to read more and more difficult texts. Once in college, professors will not be providing a simpler version of the text required for the course. This is where the scaffolding become necessary.
I will provide more information on this topic in a subsequent post.