"These (scaffolds) are forms of support temporarily provided by instructors when introducing new content and making assignments. Novice learners, like construction workers, need structures of temporary support during their efforts to build something new; once the initial phase of construction is in place, the scaffolds can be withdrawn."

Tomorrow's Professor Msg.#849 Supporting Student Success Through Scaffolding

 
Folks:

The posting below looks at five scaffolding strategies to help novice learners. It is by Susan Johnston, Ed.D. and Jim Cooper, Ph.D., and is adapted with permission from Cooperative Learning and College Teaching, S. Johnston & J. Cooper Vol. 9, No. 3 Spring 1997.

Regards,

Rick Reis
reis@stanford.edu
UP NEXT: Reducing Over-Complexity in Your Scholarly Writing

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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Supporting Student Success Through Scaffolding


Many college faculty members are not sure how to design instruction in order to ensure student success. They make the erroneous assumption that lectures and homework assignments are sufficient for students to master new and abstract content. Because of this approach, many students who lack the confidence to learn on their own have experienced unnecessary failure. In order to be effective, all college instructors need to acquire the ability to actively help students bridge the gap between their current knowledge and the instructor's intended learning outcomes. Powerful instructional techniques known as scaffolds are available to college faculty in all disciplines (King, 1995; Rosenshine & Meister, 1995). These are forms of support temporarily provided by instructors when introducing new content and making assignments. Novice learners, like construction workers, need structures of temporary support during their efforts to build something new; once the initial phase of construct
ion is in place, the scaffolds can be withdrawn. In this article we describe five scaffolding strategies:

1. Procedural Guidelines
2. Partial Solutions
3. Think-Alouds
4. Anticipate Student Errors
5. Comprehension Checks

1. Procedural Guidelines
Definition: Procedural Guidelines function as concrete references students can rely on for support as they attempt to complete new and complex assignments. This scaffolding strategy is often used when assignments involve a particular series of steps, procedures, or questions. The sequence or checklist is presented during instruction and is used later as a guide by students as they work independently on the assignment.

Description: Too often novice learners are given only brief explanations of assignments and then expected to somehow replicate the steps on their own. Even if examples of desired end products are provided by instructors, the steps taken to achieve those end products often remain a mystery to students. Providing students with a set of Procedural Guidelines to follow when working independently from teachers is what effective instructors do on a regular basis. These teachers force themselves to become consciously aware of the steps that they (as experts) intuitively follow when critiquing plays, creating personal fitness schedules, writing persuasive essays, recording lab results, selecting math formulas, or designing marketing plans. They then record the sequence of steps that they took and share it with their students. When assignments or problems are complex in nature, students' intellectual energies can be best spent engaged in the struggle of the application of the new cont
ent rather than in inefficient and frustrating attempts to divine how the experts arrived at the solutions.

Example:
Course: Research Methods in Education (Jim Cooper--Instructor)
Specific content: Steps in writing a proposal for a qualitative research study.
After describing the features of qualitative research and giving a number of examples of qualitative research studies conducted nationally and with his own students at CSUDH, Jim has his students develop possible qualitative study proposals using the following steps:


1. Identify the general goal of the study (called a Foreshadowed Problem in qualitative research).
2. Construct several Research Questions--more specific questions or issues to be answered in addressing the goal.
3. Develop methodology to answer each Research Question, including: a) sample to be studied (students, teachers, parents, others), b) specific procedures to be followed (classroom observation, interviews, videotaping, etc.), and c) time line to complete the study.

2. Partial Solutions
Definition: Partial Solutions involve presentation of a complex task that is already partially completed by the instructor so that students can more successfully complete the task by focusing on only a few elements while trying to assimilate new information. The Partial Solutions scaffold also allows instructors to regulate the level of difficulty when students first attempt the application of new ideas or skills. This form of guided practice temporarily reduces the complexity for novice learners while requiring focused attention to the content just covered.

Description: Novice learners benefit greatly when not required to independently complete an entirely new and complex learning task. Too often, students are given only brief explanations of new content followed by assignments that will be graded. Typical assignments often include lab reports, critiques of research articles, persuasive essays, sets of word problems, or case-study solutions. Assigning is not teaching, and students need much more specific instructional support than is typically provided. Each of these types of assignments can be broken down to isolate parts that students can practice. For example, using Partial Solutions with persuasive essays, instructors provide the main arguments and supporting points, and students are required, in practice sessions, to submit rational evidence for each supporting point made. The next step requires students to give both the supporting points as well as the evidence, and so on.

Giving students the opportunity to practice complex tasks under the guidance of their instructors is an important scaffolding tool that allows them to experience some success at each step of the learning process. Some instructors will avoid using this strategy because it requires some extra preparation, or they believe it provides students with unnecessary assistance. Either argument is an unfortunate abdication of instructors' responsibilities. Students at all levels of schooling have reported that many of their teachers failed to provide opportunities for guided and gradual practice with complex skills, and then these instructors expected immediate understanding. Such expectations often resulted in additional time spent by students in remedial work after marginal work was submitted and returned.

Example:
Course: Research Methods in Education (Jim Cooper--Instructor)
Specific content: Correctly labeling a correlation scatter-plot.
After drawing several examples of correlation scatter-plots on the board, Jim asks students to draw one in their notes. He often labels the X and Y axis the first time he has the students draw a scatter-plot and simply has them draw in the data points or dots. Then, the next time they do the drawing, students draw and label the scatter-plot. Jim also uses this technique when teaching his students about frequency polygons.

3. Think Alouds
Definition: After some direct instruction on a topic, the teacher presents new applications of the content and verbally models for the novice the thought process that reflects how an advanced practitioner would attempt to address the issue.

Description: College teachers are inclined to present students with the results of their thinking in class rather than identifying the process that they followed coming to those results. Thus, students lack a model of an expert coming to terms with complex issues. Little wonder then, that students are often incapable of creatively solving problems or addressing issues on tests or papers, preferring instead to provide memorized answers or rote solutions. The Think Aloud is designed to make teachers explicitly address the steps that they use in thinking about content. For most professors, these steps are so automatic that they assume the steps are self-evident to students.

Example:
Course: Research Methods in Education (Jim Cooper--Instructor)
Specific content: Distinguishing stratified from purposive sampling.
After lecturing on stratified and purposive sampling, and before giving students scenarios or examples to complete without his assistance, Jim gives them a sampling example, such as: "A researcher wanted to assess how the Success for All reading program affected reading performance of at-risk third graders, so she identified 100 third graders who scored below the fifteenth percentile on the Stanford Nine reading subscale." Jim then verbalizes his thought process in distinguishing whether this was stratified or purposive sampling. He might say, "it appears not to be stratified since with stratified one is typically interested in ensuring that students from all levels of reading achievement in the population are represented in the sample (e.g. students scoring above, at, and below reading level for their grades). In purposive sampling we are often interested in identifying a specific group of people to be in the sample. In the example this example, it appears that the researche
r is specifically interested in just the at-risk kids, based on prior test performance (the kids scoring below the fifteenth percentile). So, it seems that this is a purposive sample."

4. Anticipate Student Errors
Definition: Anticipating and discussing potential student errors is a way of regulating the difficulty in students' understanding of new cognitive strategies. Expert teachers can use prior experience in teaching their courses to pinpoint mistakes that frequently occur and to address these mistakes as course content is being presented (rather than waiting for students to make these common mistakes on tests or papers).

Description: As experts in their fields, teachers tend to forget the mistakes they made when they were novices. They often present content in a way suggesting that all of the material is of equal difficulty rather than pinpointing areas of special difficulty to students and addressing these difficulties at the precise points when the content is being presented. A few minutes spent addressing areas of special difficulty during lectures can improve the quality of assignments, making the grading experience more pleasant for faculty and students as the number of quality assignments increases.

Example
Course: Research Methods in Education (Jim Cooper--Instructor)
Specific content: Correctly labeling a correlation scatter-plot.

After drawing several examples of correlation scatter-plots on the board, Jim asks students to draw one in their notes. Since they are inclined to put the actual numbers of the scores used to present the problem, he cautions them that they need to label the X and Y axis using equal-sized intervals and NOT to put the actual face values of the data on the X and Y axes. As he warns them about this common error, he physically draws the incorrect labeling on a scatter-plot drawn on the chalk board, then erases the incorrect labels and replaces them with the correct labeling, using equal-sized intervals.

5. Comprehension Checks
Definition: A series of brief thinking tasks inserted into lectures to guarantee that both students and instructors have opportunities to check on the comprehension of the material as it is explained. Students can write their answers quietly in their own notes and/or they can be asked to discuss possible answers with work partners.

Description: Many instructors feel pressured to cover a great deal of information in their courses. For the class sessions that are content dense and seem to call for a traditional lecture format, there are active-learning strategies that are designed to be easily inserted into lectures so that students are given opportunities to think about important content as the lesson unfolds. Comprehension Checks support student learning because when students are asked to actually participate instead of passively receive information, they can stay more attentive, can check their own understanding, and can provide instructors with valuable diagnostic information during the instructional sequence. Brief tasks for pairs to tackle together ensure participation from everyone. Options include having students solve problems, label examples, select the best responses from multiple-choice questions, correct intentional errors, complete sentence starters, compare or contrast two items, support st
atements with evidence, reorder steps given out of sequence, reach conclusions, and paraphrase ideas. Research on student achievement and critical thinking by Eric Mazur at Harvard and others presents a convincing argument for inserting Comprehension Checks throughout the learning sequence.

Example:
Course: Research Methods in Education (Jim Cooper--Instructor)
Specific content: Identification of sampling procedures.
This content deals with identifying sampling procedures when presented with real educationally-related descriptions that might appear in journal articles. After Jim explains the sampling procedures, he has students identify key words in the descriptions which discriminate one procedure from another. He usually teaches a number of sampling techniques during the lecture (which are often perceived as technical and somewhat confusing to students). Therefore, after presenting just three of the techniques (random, stratified and systematic) he has students silently read three examples of sampling procedures in the course workbook. After they identify which procedure is described in each example, they underline the key words that "tipped them off." Then, working in pairs, they share this information. Jim then solicits the identification and keyword information from pairs and briefly elaborates on their responses with the total class. Then Jim presents three additional sampling proc
edures and does a Comprehension Check for all six sampling procedures identified to that point.

These are just five scaffolds that teachers can use with their students. Many scaffolds have significant amounts of research documenting their efficacy in promoting academic achievement and fostering critical thinking. For additional material on scaffolding we recommend the Rosenshine and Meister chapter (Scaffolds for Teaching Higher-order Cognitive Strategies, 1995. In A. C. Ornstien (Ed.), Teaching: Theory into Practice (pp. 134-153). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

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