How to scaffold kids

How to scaffold kids

As a former student, I’m still haunted by a nightmare that everyone is pretty familiar with: you’re given a difficult project or another type of assignment, it makes up 60-70% of your grade, and you’re eager to accomplish it perfectly. In addition, unexpected problems arise: the teacher does not provide clear instructions, everyone’s tasks are individual, and you have to figure out how to work with some new language items by yourself. I was the type of student who loved intellectual challenges, but when your grade is at stake, you look at things differently. It seems the teacher is unwilling to reach out to you, saying it’s not the instructional crutches missing, it’s my lack of curiosity to learn something new. Nothing could be further from the truth, though. In my experience as a teacher, I always go over the instructions and make sure the practice is appropriate for the level. Scaffolding is what helps me to measure the distance between the activities students can deal with on their own and with my guidance. 

As you may have noticed before, our community is a big fan of scaffolding, offering a comprehensive overview of the term, classifications, and practical tips, giving advice on visual lesson content that includes scaffolding, and explaining the role of this technique in lesson planning. For a better understanding of scaffolding, we recommend reading them first. 

Pre-step: help your students by being a student yourself 

Let’s get back to the case mentioned in the article introduction and recap what went wrong from the student’s perspective. Precisely: no clear instruction, no compassion, and, as a result, poor comprehension. I start by stating the learner’s perspective because it’s the first thing through which we can move forward: unless we put ourselves in our students’ shoes, we can’t clearly see why such a small step has so much significance. It is entirely up to you: watercolour painting, skating, riding a horse, or learning a new language (I’ve chosen the latter). Observe how your teacher or mentor responds when you get stuck with instructions and can’t move on. This will allow you to learn other skills as well as be prepared for scaffolding. 

Scaffolding in a real-life lesson context

A scaffolding method may include such techniques as model & demonstrate, hint, nudge and provoke, thinking-about-thinking way, physical mediators’ use and others.

In the model & demonstrate technique the teacher helps students to notice and observe what needs to be learned. Language items they’re about to learn and use should be demonstrated beforehand.

Knowledge cannot be pushed into kids’ brains, so scaffolding that promotes self-discovery through hit, nudge, and provoke way is essential. Several ways can be used to inspire them, for example, asking open-ended questions, implementing structured speaking activities such as think-pair-share, my turn-your turn, and so on. A lesson plan that incorporates this strategy may be very effective in increasing creativity, problem-solving skills, and self-discovery among students. 

Thinking-about-thinking scaffolding reminds adults of something they may easily forget: self-reflection in learning has to be taught, it is not something that happens automatically. The teacher can ask students to share impressions and experiences regarding target language practice and, with another tool mentioned above – model & demonstrate – they may also set an example by using the think-aloud strategy. 

Physical mediators such as gestures, visuals, or even toys make learning less stressful and more exciting for kids. To some extent, they consider all these objects to be part of a game. As a result, mediators create a friendly and familiar environment for young learners and guide them through their studies. 

Another technique that isn’t traditionally regarded as scaffolding is to collect learners’ work and to make a portfolio for them in the future. It has puzzled me for some time why my mom keeps all my artwork, workbooks, and DIYs. The purpose is to give your students a chance to see their progress. The strategy can be implemented in a classroom or together with the parents.  

A few scaffolding techniques may be used during a lesson (based on the aims and outcomes of the lesson, the student’s age, and the student’s comprehension level). As we analyze Scott Thornbury’s “How to teach grammar” book, we’ll illustrate which scaffolding techniques can be applied practically to a lesson plan.  

Goldilocks and the Three Bears story will provide the plot for the lesson sample mentioned in the book. For young learners, storytelling fosters better language immersion, not just focusing on items in the target language, but presenting them in a relevant context to make learning more meaningful and engaging. The students are around 5 years old and the grammar they’ll encounter authentically is present perfect continuous. 

Stage 1: The teacher sits down with a group of students and prepares visuals to tell the story. While telling the story, the teacher pauses to check learners’ understanding, ask if they have unknown words and includes target grammar into the story, highlighting it with the voice. 

Scaffolding applied: physical mediator (the book itself or individual handouts).

Stage 2: Students are instructed to repeat the phase that contains target grammar, for example, “Who’s been eating my porridge? Who’s been sitting in my chair?”

Scaffolding applied: The teacher is modeling and demonstrating how the present perfect continuous is used so that students can reproduce and reflect on the situation in the story where it appears.

Stage 3: Students are encouraged to become actively involved in further retellings, with the teacher varying the story to reach the best comprehension. The repetitions here are aimed at preparing students to tell the story only with visual aids. 

Scaffolding applied: Students can use visual cues to retell a story using the target language.

Stage 4: The teacher asks the children to draw visuals that help them to retell the story without assistance.

Scaffolding applied: Students are encouraged to create their own visuals based on what they have learned previously. For self-reflection purposes, these visuals could be included in students’ portfolios. 

Such an analysis can become a great routine for your lesson planning: scaffolding can enhance creative and critical thinking when used appropriately, and it shouldn’t be ignored as a trivial aspect. Teachers who take the time to prepare for a lesson and predict the learners’ current difficulties prepare the ground for further learners’ autonomy. The methods we mentioned may be adapted, or you may even come up with brand-new scaffolding ideas: when it comes to creating instructional crutches for kids, nothing is fixed or rigorous. Just try to observe what will work best with your students!

Lesson plan adapted from “How to teach grammar” by Scott Thornbury

Speaking activities are, obviously, essential for English language speaking classes. A lot of students join classes particularly to develop their communicative competence, become more fluent, versatile, adaptable, and confident communicators in English. However, designing speaking activities might be time-consuming and nerve-wracking for any teacher. We have prepared a memo with superb ready-made speaking tasks that will make your student talking. Download it here.

How to scaffold kids

Анастасия Яковлева

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