Sunday, April 29, 2007

Scaffolding and Making Meaning in Education

I completed a practicum this semester to finally earn the state endorsement on my certificate for learning disabilities and one of the hottest topics out there is scaffolding - providing those supports students need to access curriculum/expectations and/or acquire certain skills. This week I needed to write about scaffolding and had some thoughts:

One of the biggest challenges in providing appropriate scaffolds in a classroom of diverse learner is when they all need different scaffolds. What is a scaffold for one might be a hindrance for another… this is one of the concepts that I am most asked about when discussions revolve around student-centered instruction, accommodations, remediation, IEPs and or behavior management. It’s also a common theme among discussions I have with students.

Many students with learning disabilities have some difficulty thinking outside of themselves. By this I mean that most students I have worked with may know that all students learn differently - especially if they are at LMA because they must have learned differently for their parents to look for something different – and often they can explain why people learn differently, but many of these same students are the first to notice when students are treated differently. They look for order and often order means the same. . . . especially if someone else is getting something “good”.

I find that scaffolding for this understanding of how to be different and when and why that is okay is one of the hardest concepts to scaffold, for both students and adults. What is fair? Rick Lavoie says that “fair does not mean equal”. This is true; so how do we balance using a scaffold so our students can perform or learn along a continuum that will compare them against others at some point and scaffolding understanding of individual differences? I do believe that giving notes from a lecture to a student with auditory processing issues or output (writing) issues is important and an appropriate scaffold, but then how do they learn the skill of taking in information independently? How do they learn what to do with those notes? Scaffolds only assist students in making meaning when they are able to use them; when the result is something the student can use – not just a band-aid. Yes, giving a student notes can be like a band-aid. The teacher has provided supports. The teacher has followed the IEP. The IEP included good supports. The student is using an accommodation that is appropriate to his/her needs and may be making his/her best effort to do so; and still this child can look lazy, unappreciative and may not achieve the intended goal.

I do not think this is the case all the time, but with curricula getting more and more packed with content objectives – again I seem to cycle back to the MMC and state guidelines – when is there time in a school day to scaffold a student into being able to independently use an appropriate scaffold so that he can in turn grow to a point where he does not need that scaffold to be independent anymore (whew!)? Guidelines and standards are important to measure that education is providing appropriate skills and content knowledge to support the development and support of growing societies, but how is a society that was established on the principles of personal freedoms and rights of individuals so dependent on an education system that seems to forget the individual? How do we make meaning of that?….. Who scaffolds the system?

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