SLOOM! S is for Scaffolding

Developing confidence in our kids

Have you ever experienced failure in something? Perhaps it was a test or assignment in school?

Have you ever worked with a child (your own, or in school) only to see them struggle to succeed or even flat out fail?

It can be incredibly frustrating, can’t it? Feelings of helplessness, self-doubt, and self-condemnation try and creep in and it can take awhile to recover.

Imagine what it’s like as a teenager with reading difficulties who has struggled with reading their entire life. Think about it. Their hormones are already all over the place as they look around to see everyone else succeeding at this “ordinary” skill, but for whatever reason they simply cannot do it and never have been able to. It's as if they live under a constant cloud of failure - no wonder they often give up and often stop caring altogether!

But we can change this. To help develop students into successful readers we have to teach them with materials in which they can have enough success to feel confident, but with enough room for growth that they can feel challenged. This is called “scaffolding”, and we would expect our students to have between 93-97% success on an assignment for true scaffolding and success building to take place. Through skilled teaching we can then help take them the rest of the way (97-100% success).

Scaffolding is a well-known term (see Vygotsky) that in education simply means to strategically teach to develop independence. Think of it like the scaffolding surrounding a building when it's being built - it's only there long enough to provide support so the building can stand independently.

For literacy support, here’s how we know scaffolding will work:

Firstly, it is important to think of scaffolding fitting into a wider context of what a student can achieve. Let’s use reading accuracy as an example (you could also use mathematics). Reading accuracy is the success someone has with reading the words in a story correctly. So if I can read 98 out of every 100 words in a short article, I would have read that article with 98% accuracy.

If someone can read:

  • 97-100% of the story correctly- this level of story difficulty is considered to be the “independent” level for that student.

  • 93-97% of the story- this story is considered to be in their “instructional” level (this is scaffolding).

  • Below 93% of the words in the story correctly- this story is likely to be frustrating (i.e. “frustration level”).

Although these figures sometimes differ- some say 95-100& is independent, 90-95% is instructional, and below 90% is frustration- there are a large number of scaffolding strategies, but we must first know these levels.

I often see teachers or support staff helping kids every step of the way to meet a learning objective or target. The problem here is that if we have to help someone every step of the way, it means we've given them something too difficult. There's no point. The problem with this is that a kid easily learns to let an adult do all the work for them and they learn nothing (this is called learned helplessness). This defeats the purpose of supporting altogether!

I’ve got much to say about this, but the important thing to remember is that we have to help students develop their skills by starting at 93-97% success to build confidence, self-esteem, and help them identify as successful learners, whatever “level” they are learning at.

Stay tuned for more on SLOOM! Next up: LO - Little and Often

I'd like to hear from you. If you've got any questions or anything else you'd like to discuss, please don't hesitate to fire away!