When I see successful lessons, I’m most impressed with how the teacher has set the stage for success.
When I look back on my biggest classroom failures, they were often caused by a lack scaffolding.
And when I hear teachers complain that their students’ can’t do something, it’s almost always because the teacher’s understanding of the expectations didn’t match kids’ understanding of the expectations.
Clear Expectations and Scaffolds
There’s two patterns:
- Establish clear expectations.
- Make it easy for students to achieve those expectations.
This helps the most struggling of students and the most advanced kids. Everyone needs the expectations and everyone benefits from scaffolding to achieve those expectations.
Example & Non-Example
There’s something so powerful about seeing an example and a non-example.
- Want your students to write a better paragraph? First, write a cruddy version. Then create the exemplar.
- Want papers set up a certain way? Show them how not to do it, then show them how do do it.
- Want them to be nice to the lunch lady? Act out a non-example, then show the right way.
This works with almost anything: from hanging up backpacks to writing research reports. Kids need to see the bad and the good.
Internet pal, Shannon Houghton, helps run the #TeachersWhoGame panel at a gaming conference. To make her Q&A session go more smoothly, she created sentence frames for the adults attending her panel! Amazing.
Everyone in your class can benefit from similar sentence frames. They can scaffold everything from appropriate class discussions to joining a game at recess.
Break Down The Complex
Without realizing it, we often ask kids do things without clear steps. For example, “revise your writing” is complex. It requires scaffolding – specific steps students can climb up:
- Count the number of words in each sentence. Is there lots of variety, or are they about the same length?
- Look at the parts of speech that start your sentences. Is there a variety of nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc?
- How many times do you use similes or metaphors? Zero is too few. Every sentence is too many.
And if I, as the teacher, can’t break the task down, it means that even I don’t really know what I want! This happens more often than we realize.
“Everyone find a group” might be the least scaffolded thing we say as teachers. It’s so easy to say, yet it leads to complete panic.
So, set a clear expectation for joining groups. Mine was: if someone wants to join your group, the only answer is “yes, please!” And, since there are many ways to say “yes, please!” I demonstrated an example/non-example:
- Example: I smile, pull out a chair, and say “yes please” in a welcoming voice.
- Non-Example: I roll my eyes, exhale loudly, and murmur “yes please” while turning my back.
It was quick, kids thought it was hilarious (since I hammed it up), and it set clear expectations of acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
What’s The First Thing?
When giving students a task, ask them: “what’s the first thing you’re going to do?” This gives everyone a starting point and a chance to build some momentum.
All Students, All Tasks
Whether it’s an academic task, like writing a paragraph, or a social situation, like finding a friend on the playground, everyone can benefit from clear expectations and specific steps.