Teachers are advised to use “scaffolding” teaching techniques to meet Common Core State Standards requirements that students comprehend complex reading materials. Scaffolding is one of many recommended teaching strategies, and it needs to be distinguished from differentiated instruction.
Differentiated instruction involves modifying assignments and making accommodations for individual students even to the point of providing them different texts. Scaffolding divides learning into steps, sometimes called “chunks.” Students use the same texts but have tools to build on their knowledge throughout the learning process.
Students learn in increments with instructors helping until they can comprehend on their own. The ultimate goal is to teach students how to become independent learners. Educators have been using scaffolding teaching strategies for many years and the word was coined as far back as 1976. Now, with the adoption of the Common Core Standards by most states, scaffolding instructional strategies are even more important than ever.
Here are three techniques educators have found particularly helpful in assisting students to be able to read and comprehend grade-level texts.
Teachers should not just send students into the depths of reading a text that’s peppered with unfamiliar words and phrases. Before reading the text, teachers should identify unfamiliar words or concepts that must be understood to grasp the meaning of the material. This does not mean giving students a vocabulary list and requiring them to look up and write down individual definitions.
Introduce words and phrases with pictures and have students relate their own personal experience with the word or phrase. Class discussions about words and phrases, either in small groups or with the class as a whole, lead to a greater understanding of the concepts.
In the class discussions, use metaphors and analogies to emphasize understanding. Asking students to draw a picture or make up a symbol for the vocabulary that is be focused on can be a fun activity as well as a good instructional technique. Have students share their drawings with the class.
Begin with a class discussion focused on what students already know about the concept or topic that is the subject of the text. Discovering what they already know creates a foundation for new learning. The discussion should include what they know about the topic from their own lives and the lives of their friends, or from reading about it or learning it in past classes.
Excerpts from the text can be read aloud to the students prior to reading the entire text. Teachers then ask students what they think is happening or is going to happen. Teachers may need to guide the discussion and offer clues and suggestions in order to keep students on track and headed in the right direction.
Some students need visual aids to assist their learning. These can be photographs, drawings, charts or graphic organizers. Graphic organizers can be used with the strategy of separating the text into segments and reading and discussing the assignment in increments.
Visual aids do not take the place of the text and graphic organizers are to be used temporarily for students who have trouble grasping the information presented in detailed texts. Rebecca Alber, instructor at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education, compares graphic organizers to “training wheels; they are temporary and meant to be removed.”