Scaffolding: Lessons Learned from a Mama Bird (Part 1)

Screen shot 2014-05-01 at 3.25.07 PMOne morning I woke up early to walk my dog, and I was lucky enough to see one of nature’s miracles- a mama bird teaching its baby how to fly.

At first I wasn’t sure what was happening. The mother bird was chirping loudly and was picking her baby up from behind with its feet. She was lifting the baby up a little bit at a time and flapping her wings. The baby, unsure of what was happening, was crying loudly. The mother had great patience. She picked the baby up, flapped her wings, and then put the baby down again. She repeated this process over and over for about twenty minutes. At the end, the baby bird was trying to flap its small wings too and had stopped crying. Pleased with the baby’s progress, the mama bird set the baby down and took a break. I stood and stared at this incredible event. It was a rare and magical moment. I had always wondered how the mama bird taught its baby to fly. Now I knew the answer- scaffolding.

Helping students learn how to “fly” on their own, especially when locating text evidence, can be challenging. It is important to put scaffolds in place in order to support each student through the learning process. Scaffolding is not a sink or swim approach. It allows the teacher to gradually release students from instructional supports thereby helping students learn how to do the task at hand with as much or as little support as they need.

1) Keep a List of Scaffolds– I like to keep a list handy of ways to scaffold a lesson or unit. This way, I can refer to the list when creating lessons and units. This list might include: inquiry work, modeling with a picture book, pre-selecting examples, using sticky notes or strips of paper to sort, using exemplar models, using non-exemplar models, creating steps, etc. When I’m planning a lesson or a unit, I like to use this list so I have strategies for scaffolding at the ready.

2) Plan Scaffolds Ahead- When planning your whole class lessons, small group work, and one-on-one times, plan the scaffolds you’ll need in advance and have them at the ready. I jot scaffold ideas on a sticky note if I’m meeting with a small group of students or one-on-one. This way- I’m on the go! Plus there’s a record.

3) Models! Models! Models! Don’t we all need to see what something should look like? Keep a folder or binder with examples and models. This is my go-to strategy for scaffolding my lessons. Planned in advance, this can be a life-saver! @KateRoberts talks about the importance of creating a “Conferring Toolkit” filled with models. This is an awesome strategy!

4) Breaking it Down into Steps- I like to write down steps on sticky notes for students. For example, if I’m teaching a student how to construct an interpretation about symbolism in a text, I want to give them steps that they can follow “First, Second, Next, Last.” This way they have a road map. The best part about providing steps as scaffolds is that you can break down the steps differently for each student by adding or subtracting steps.

5) Record Keeping of Scaffolds– Keep track of the scaffolds you have in place for students, including any changes. These records can help you reflect on the strategies that have been the most successful for students. Also, they illuminate the ways students have grown and reached their goals.


Please leave us a comment! We love the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s