Having students who are successful independent learners is the primary goal for most teachers, but not an easy one to achieve. Despite their good intentions, many students struggle to work and revise effectively when alone because they either lack the motivation or aren’t comfortable in their ability to do the work.
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So, for his 8th principle of instruction, Rosenshine proposed the temporary use of scaffolds, to provide students with the appropriate amount of support they needed during the learning process. This support would be given until students were confident and successful in their ability to complete a new task.
What does Rosenshine say?
Scaffolding can be defined as the process of gradually removing your support as the student masters a new skill or concept. Teachers should remove all support when the student is fully confident they can successfully complete a task on their own and have demonstrated as much. However, if students get stuck on a more challenging version of the task, they still need help. This style of support helps students grasp concepts a lot more quickly and guide student practice. Rosenshine calls this process “cognitive apprenticeship”, as students learn effective strategies that enable them to become successful learners.
One important element of scaffolding that Rosenshine believes teachers should pay attention to is anticipating the common errors and misconceptions their students may fall victim to when completing a new task, and spend time explaining why they are common errors. For example, in maths, not considering the units of a value when subtracting one from the other (i.e 4L of milk is separated into 100ml bottles. How many bottles are there?). By highlighting these errors to students, they’ll be less likely to store them in their long-term memory.
What does the research say?
The concept of “scaffolding” was developed by a famous child cognitive psychologist Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky believed that the cognitive development of a child was enhanced through the use of collaborative learning methods. By communicating with adults and teachers (people that Vygotsky described as a ‘More Knowledgeable Other’ (MKO)), students were able to make sense of the world and engage with their learning.
Vygotsky found that students who received help from a MKO when completing a new or difficult task that was slightly beyond their ability performed significantly better when asked to complete the same task on their own. Because of this, Vygotsky proposed that all learning takes place in something called the zone of proximal development.
This zone can be defined as the difference between the student’s actual developmental level and the potential level they could achieve with the help of adults or more experienced peers. To progress through this zone, students need guidance from their teachers – otherwise, they won’t be able to reach their full potential.
The amount of support teachers should give depends on how much the student needs. When scaffolding, teachers need to consider the Goldilocks Effect: not enough support and students will become demotivated; too much support and they won’t be challenged enough. Teachers should have high expectations and ensure that students are challenged but the task should be achievable.
Practical implications in the classroom
Here are 4 ways teachers can provide scaffolds for their students’ learning…
Use checklists or structure – Providing checklists or writing frames such as PEEL paragraphs is a great way for students to check that they are completing work correctly. You can give students common error checklists or questions that they can reference to make sure they’ve included everything they’re supposed to.
Model task completion – Describe and show students the steps they need to take when completing a task. This stops students from making common errors and allows them to obtain a clearer understanding of what they’re expected to do.
Ask probing questions – Ask questions such as “which part of the equation would you solve first?” or “why do we need to expand quadratic equations to solve the question?” This will encourage students to think critically.
Use Elaborative Interrogation – Alternatively, students can engage in Elaborative Interrogation such as asking “why is this true?”, which enables them to make connections to prior knowledge.
Scaffolding is yet another great strategy recommended by Rosenshine that teachers can implement into their teaching to ensure their students become confident independent learners. You could use it by asking questions, using checklists or by modelling how to complete a task. When you gradually remove support, your students are not only less likely to make errors in their learning, but they’re also more motivated to practise in their own time. In doing so, students perform better academically.
Want to learn more about each principle and how to use them in the classroom? Take our Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction online teacher CPD module.
Read the whole Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction blog series…