I was very confident going into my lesson on scaffolding. When I did the same lesson last year, it was a success, and I had no doubt the same results would ensue this semester. So far, I’m not sure this is the case.
The first step to teaching my participants about scaffolding was for them to experience it via a lesson on acrostic poetry and idioms (lesson 1). For the next step, they got in groups and I asked them to remember the sequence (lesson 2). They reported their findings to the class, and instead of writing the steps on the board, I wrote my reasoning behind each step. For example, the reason I gave them a list of idioms and reviewed it with one class is because I noticed they needed support. So I wrote support on the board to create the correlation between the activity and my intention. We continued this way until we arrived at the final activity which was the classic gallery walk.
In my mind, this was a clear example of the concept of scaffolding, so to create a link between their experience and the theory of scaffolded instruction, I wrote the word scaffolding on the board next to the lesson sequencing. We had a brief discussion about the metaphorical meaning. Then I gave them a handout that explained the reasoning behind this theory of teaching and learning. I wanted them to understand more deeply why and how this concept is valuable for their teaching. For many teachers, this was the first time hearing about this concept.
Then instead of giving them a lecture, I asked them to create a poster explaining the different elements of scaffolding. The idea behind asking them to create a poster is that through the process of negotiating the visual design, they are creating their own understanding of the concept. When I asked my participants to do this last year, I had no complaints. Not this year.
At first I thought that the making of the posters itself was the issue. Some definitely worried far too much about the design (My fault. I shouldn’t have shown them last year’s examples. Competition has too much of a stronghold). But now that I think about what some teachers asked or said during the lesson, I realize is that they were really struggling with the concept itself. They understand the idea of teaching in a step-by-step, supportive way, but they’re not sure what this looks like in their classrooms. For some, they couldn’t match the explanations on the handout with their experience as teachers. For others, they simply took the explanations on the handout as a list to remember. Another teaching idea to check out, and chuck out.
One teacher asked me,
I don’t know what the handout means here, ‘By providing structure, the scaffolded lesson or research project, provides pathways for the learners. The student can make decisions about which path to choose or what things to explore along the path but they cannot wander off of the path, which is the designated task.’ How can a teacher provide various pathways and then how can students make decisions about which path to choose? I only give them one way.
Another teacher said,
“You are so organized! I’m not an organized person.”
What I heard was,
“I can’t teach this way because it takes too much time and thought. I don’t have the time to plan a step-by-step lesson.”
To this I found myself responding quite passionately,
“I may seem organized to you, but my organization only exists because I believe it will increase my students’ learning.”
My impromptu belief statement took me by surprise.
This is when it all became clear. My understanding of the concept of learning is so completely different from theirs, that making the jump from their way to mine seems almost impossible.
I’m still not sure how to handle this. How can we start having discussions about all the intricate concepts of learning (learning styles, learning skills, language acquisition…) at this stage of the semester? When I taught this lesson scaffolding, I took for granted that they were ready. I didn’t scaffold their knowledge of learning and now I feel like I’ve opened that mythological, cliche box.
Perhaps I have already started the discussion and the best is yet to come. They may surprise me with an impromptu belief statement about learning in a few weeks. All I know is that right now I have to make sure that tomorrow’s lesson is clearly scaffolded.
P.S. Thanks for reading this long post. I could have written so much more. There is so much to process.