Learn more about scaffolding in education!

Imagine a teacher, Mr. X, decides that by the end of the semester, his class will read Lord of the Flies and write a five-paragraph essay that discusses the significance of three symbols and how they change over the course of the novel. That is a daunting task, so Mr. X plans to scaffold the assignment for his students.

Scaffolding Writing Assignments

Identify Skills

In order for Mr. X to scaffold his writing assignment, he would first make a list of the skills necessary to complete the task (“Write a five-paragraph essay that discusses the significance of three symbols and how they change over the course of the novel”). He knows that his final project or goal is the starting point for planning. First, he would ask himself, “What do my students need to be able to do in order to meet the goal?” and, just as important, “What can they do now?”.

Mr. X has determined that his students must be able to:

  • Interpret the text - identify the symbols and their significance in the novel
  • Explain their ideas - discuss how the symbols changed over the course of the novel
  • Compose an essay - complete all steps of the writing process

Interpret the Text

Next, Mr. X will break this set of skills down to less challenging skills and tasks that will allow for direct instruction of the skill and provide a tool or framework to act as a guide.

Mr. X asks himself, what do students need to know and be able to do in order to successfully interpret the text? Based on his experience with his class, he knows they can have a difficult time comprehending new vocabulary. Sometimes he worries that students aren’t seeing the bigger picture, and he knows they have trouble making connections between characters, actions, and motivations. These skills will aid in the overall interpretation of the text. He would also like to provide direct instruction on symbols: what a symbol is, and how to identify symbols.

Define Key Terms

Mr. X decides to address vocabulary at the beginning of each chapter. He will provide a vocabulary activity from Storyboard That prior to reading. The vocabulary activity allows students to create an image to support the acquisition of new words, makes an excellent reference for students as they read, and provides a tool for studying.

Summarize Plot

Mr. X feels that with such a lengthy novel, it is important to ensure students are keeping up with their reading and comprehending what they read. Mr. X has his students complete a chapter summary activity. Each chapter summary provides a space for the student to summarize the chapter with an image as well as space for writing a summary. Students can do the activity on the computer, or can fill it out by hand. Mr. X can check the summaries after a whole group reading or independent reading and learn what each student understands and what they need more clarification on. Reviewing the chapter summary prior to reading the next chapter is a great way to reinforce what they learned and clarify any misconceptions they might have. It will also be a great tool when students sit down to brainstorm for their essay!

Identify Character Actions and Motivations

The characters, their actions, and their motivations drive the plot in Lord of the Flies and are linked to many of the symbols Mr. X’s students will come to learn about. Because of that, Mr. X wants to spend some time focused on this topic. Mr. X will use the Characters, Actions, Motivations tool that he made on Storyboard That. Students will be able to update their pages as they read independently, working in small groups or during whole group instruction. The structured page of Storyboard That’s character chart allows for flexibility in grouping and pace. Mr. X will be able to check in with students as they work or have set due dates for each character. Mr. X can print out blank storyboards with lines to be filled out by hand, or he can let his students use this storyboard as a template in their own accounts.

Define and Identify Symbols in the Text

Mr. X plans to spend about half of a class period (30 minutes) directly teaching his students about symbolism and providing them with examples of symbols prior to reading. He plans to give them an opportunity to read a short story or poem to practice identifying symbols independently. However, he would like students to identify symbols as they read the novel. He is going to provide them with a Symbols page. He plans to work with the class on the first two or three symbols they encounter. Once they have demonstrated the ability to work independently, students will be able to complete this page on their own as they read at home or during independent reading time. Since the storyboard structure provides a built-in example, students are more likely to accurately complete their work. Mr. X likes that he can quickly check comprehension during class time.

Explain Ideas

In an effort to maximize the development of their skill-sets prior to the writing process, Mr. X would like his class to begin gathering and analyzing information about the symbols they find – specifically the way each symbol changes over time and the significance of those symbols. Both of these skills require direct instruction and most likely will take some time to develop as Mr. X teaches his students how to think. To aid in this endeavor, Mr. X will employ the use of the Symbols Analysis page. This page provides a framework for Mr. X’s students and will help them to achieve independence and a sense of autonomy as they work. Mr. X is able to check in with his students at any moment to see how they are progressing and if they need support or clarification.

Compose Essay

Once the class has completed the novel, the students can begin their research - just kidding! Their research is done! Since Mr. X put such careful planning into his lessons and the tools he provided for his students, the research is already filed neatly. That is not to say the hard work is over. Mr. X’s class is ready to move onto composing an essay.

Mr. X’s students are a varied bunch and although many of them have experience writing, he has several students who are new to his school who seem to have more limited experience and haven’t exhibited knowledge of a system or framework for writing that they are familiar with. To ensure they are all on the same page, Mr. X is going to oversee each phase of the writing process, provide due dates for each step, and check in with students individually as the need arises. Over the course of the year, as they become more comfortable with this framework, Mr. X will be able to grant the class more freedom while still maintaining the ability to check in and provide support at any point.

Collect Information

The first step in the writing process is brainstorming. Mr. X likes using the Brainstorm activity on Storyboard That. Since it begins with images, students who have difficulty with word recall or letter formation will have a visual to prompt them as they write. Mr. X finds that because they did so much work leading up to this point, the students are able to recall information quite readily or are able to find it in their notes as needed.

Organize Information

Mr. X shifts the class to the Outline stage of writing once he feels confident the class is prepared to transition. Mr. X models how to use the Outline page for each of the paragraphs: introduction, conclusion and one page for each of the body paragraphs. (He may also provide students with another outline worksheet depending on their needs.) He then allows them to work in class while he observes and provides support as needed. Once each student's work is approved by Mr. X, they are given the go-ahead to begin their rough drafts. Some students prefer to type their drafts, while others are more comfortable printing their rough drafts. The rough draft of the essay is edited first by the student and then by Mr. X.

Critique Work

Once the student feels they have a quality final draft, the student uses the Essay Rubric page for a final draft. The Essay Rubric is turned in with the final draft so that Mr. X can score the essay on the same page. That way, students can see discrepancies in their self-grading and learn how to properly critique their own work.

Create Finished Piece

Finally, the work is ready to be published. Mr. X’s students love the ability to create an original image on Storyboard That to accompany their final draft. Mr. X enjoys their enthusiasm and enjoys their sense of accomplishment.

Summary of Steps and Tools Used by Mr. X

Goal: Write a five-page essay that discusses the significance of three symbols and how they change over the course of the novel.

Skills Required to Reach Goal Sub-Skills Task/Tool/Framework
Interpret the Text Define key termsComplete Vocabulary page at beginning of chapter
Summarize plotComplete Chapter Summary page for each chapter
Identify characters, their actions and motivationComplete Characters, Actions, Motivations
Define symbol and identify symbols in the textComplete Symbols
Explain IdeasGather information about how the symbols change over the course of the novelComplete Symbol Analysis
Analyze symbols and identify which symbols are most significant
Compose an Essay Collect informationComplete Brainstorm
Organize informationConstruct Paragraphs
Critique workComplete the Essay Rubric to independently evaluate work
Create finished pieceCreate an image to accompany student work

Although Mr. X is an English Language Arts teacher, scaffolding is useful across curricula. These tools and strategies can be modified to suit the needs of history, science, and foreign language classes. Anywhere a large cognitive task is required, a scaffolded approach can aid in the academic development of the student and their understanding of course material.

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