Un-Scary Differentiation #4 – Simple Scaffolding

I don’t know about you, but if there’s a scarier concept in education than differentiation, it’s scaffolding.  Layering in the level of difficulty at just the right time and in just the right way to make sure all students progress beautifully to mastery sounds just about impossible.  So my take was to put some fail-safe pieces in place that were good for all kids to help make sure everyone was supported and set up for success along the way.

Preteach Vocabulary – If you don’t teach ELA, keep reading!  A huge number of the difficulties our struggling students encounter in the classroom can be traced back to language or reading issues.  And vocabulary is often at the heart of those issues.  No matter what content you teach, if you teach students the crucial vocabulary for a unit or concept before you teach the rest of the content, you’ll be scaffolding for your ELL’s as well as any other students who might be intimidated by those new words or concepts.  When you do this you’ll find that those new words no longer stump students mid-lesson since they’re already familiar with them.  Going through the process of pulling out vocabulary words also helps you anticipate what might be difficult for the students and appreciate how the rigor of the language relates to the rigor of a concept or content so that you’re better able to understand where students might need extra support. 

Colored Popsicle Sticks – One of our 6th grade ELA teachers taught me this strategy.  She uses popsicle sticks to cold-call students already and so she decided to use colored popsicle sticks to help her scaffold her questions.  Depending on a students’ reading level, their name is written on a certain colored popsicle stick.  This way when she cold-calls, she can better match students with appropriate questions.  This is not to say that lower-level readers only get easy questions, but rather that they might get a basic question before they’re asked a higher-level question to build up to that harder question.  She also uses them as a check on herself to make sure she’s thinking about the level of difficulty of her questions versus just asking questions randomly or jumping to high-level questions without any scaffolding.  They’re a nice visual reminder of the need to scaffold up to higher-level material.

Tiered Assignments – Yes, this strategy is coming up again!  Click here to read the post about what these are and how to use them, if you missed it.  If you’re regularly tiering assignments, then you’re building in scaffolding on the front end so students are working up through each level of difficulty as needed. 

Stop & Jot – It can be easy for students that don’t understand to fall through the cracks during a class period if they don’t raise their hand or manage not to get called on.  One way to make sure everyone is processing during class is to build in times for them to ‘stop & jot’ their ideas or answers.  To remind yourself, try inserting a powerpoint slide specifically for this that has a question and a time allotted for it where everyone in class stops and writes out the answer to a question in complete sentences.  Writing equals thinking, so if you can see that everyone in class is writing out an answer, you know they’re processing the information and so are more likely to be comprehending, as well.  And for students who may not need the extra processing time, they’re able to solidify their mastery of the concept while others are able to catch up.

Think-pair-share – This is probably my favorite teaching strategy of all time.  It’s very straight forward, but we often feel too pressed for time to use it often or completely.  When you ask a question, give students time to think and write their answers in complete sentences for at least 30 seconds, then pair up at their tables to talk about their answers, then you cold-call someone to share out.  All too often we jump straight to the share and don’t give students time to process.  Making sure to include the pair talking time can be critical because, in addition to having verbal processing time, it gives students a chance to try out their ideas on a neighbor before sharing with the whole class so they’re not as nervous about sharing in front of everyone.  And if some students are totally lost, they’re able to hear their peers explain it in a new way and so hopefully will get up-to-speed before we move on to the next piece of content.

Pre-teaching – This was covered in our most recent post on grouping strategies, but bears repeating.  If you regularly pull the students who typically struggle in your class and pre-teach upcoming skills to them, you’re preventing many of the gaps that might typically occur by scaffolding beforehand.  They also get a great confidence boost and spend a lot less time in class feeling confused and discouraged.
 

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