Do you know what I love about teaching? A lot of things! But I really love the fact that I have 24 ten year olds (I know, when it comes to class size, I’m not in bad shape!) that are completely heterogeneous in every way. There are no two students completely alike. Each of them have different academic, social, and emotional strengths and needs. Yet, in the end, they all are capable of achieving success with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Did you notice I said in the end? Not easily, not simultaneously, not identically. I mean eventually. Eventually each student will get there. I love my students for who they are and what they achieve. Even more, I love the puzzle, the process, the journey of scaffolding their success.
Your students are, no doubt, like mine. There’s not a class of students, at any age, where achievement happens instantly for all. This requires differentiation. Teachers have always known that kids at different needs at different times. Parents have known that effective teachers meet their students where they’re at. With evaluation on TPEP, differentiation is required. However, I think success for students comes from more than differentiation. It comes from teachers knowing what instructional strategies will push each student at the perfect pace to always keep them challenged and moving towards their goal. This is scaffolding.
If it wasn’t for the fact that I have two giant obstacles in the way ( 1- I have a huge aversion to reptiles and 2 – I nearly pass out at the thought of medical procedures), I was probably supposed to be a veterinarian! Seriously … if I could take in all of the world’s fluffy creatures, I would! So naturally, when I saw this video, it clicked. Everything I knew about differentiation and scaffolding came together. It is worth every second of the three minutes you’ll spend watching it. First, for another way to look at meeting our students where they are and secondly, for inspiration it’ll give you!
Recently I’ve felt like I’ve had more and more students like this little squirrel. With the adoption, and then implementation, of Common Core there have been gaps. My district has rolled out implementation in stages, with different grade bands switching from instruction under EALRs to instruction under CCSS at different times. Come September, all students, K-12, will be working towards achievement of the new standards. Because of this there are gaps. I’m pretty sure there was no way around it. At some point, each student (with maybe the exception of kindergarteners) went from working with one set of standards to another. Those two standards don’t align completely (if you want to see how the standards align, check out this link!). Therefore, some academic demands might resurface. Even more likely, and more problematic, some academic demands might be missing for our students.
The most basic example is Lexile range. My 4th graders, instructed under Washington State EARLs, have traditionally been working in the Lexile range of 700-800. CCSS demands that 4th graders work in the range of 740-940. The year my students moved from 4th grade EALRs instruction to 5th grade CCSS instruction, it was expected that a gap would be present. You can see why. The demands, as we all know, are more rigorous. Additionally, what is expected within the reading level is more cognitively demanding. You can imagine just how much scaffolding students need at that time.
I, some days, feel like I’m on this little squirrel’s cheer team. The challenge is the last year or two I’ve felt that most of my students were like the little squirrel. Before the switch to CCSS, most of them would run and jump the barrier. A few would struggle and I’d bring out the ramp. One or two might need a complete plan in effect. Now, a significantly higher number is missing the barrier … in the beginning. And for each of them I’m modeling, stacking backpacks, and even coaxing them with nuts (completely peanut free!). I’m doing guided reading, providing sentence starters, using data to create intervention groups, and cheering them on with every ounce of spirit I have in my bones. And they’re doing it. Slowly, I can remove the graphic organizers, rely on some intrinsic motivation, and allow for independent work. In the end, each and every one of them is capable of being successful.
The change from EALRs to CCSS and MSP to SBAC is difficult. There is absolutely no doubt about it. It is difficult for parents. It is difficult for students. It is difficult for teachers. And we are all going to need more scaffolding then we ever knew. Parents need it in the form of newsletters and resources. Students need it in the form of best practices differentiated for each of them. Teachers need it in the form of professional development and administrative support. Over time, all of these stakeholders will need scaffolding, but our system will smooth out some of the bumps and we’ll get this down. Until then, during this time of change, find your inner Dr. Doolittle and do whatever it takes to get your little squirrels over the cement wall!
But wait! While you’re at it, share some of your favorite ELA scaffolds in the comments below!
** Author’s Note: I originally found this video on this blog. **
I grew up here in Western Washington, wanting to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. As the oldest child in my family, I had plenty of opportunities to "practice" teaching my younger siblings. I enjoyed this. They may not have. :) When I'm not working, I enjoy outdoor activities with my husband and our two Australian Shepherds (whom are far too spoiled for their own good!). I also love spending time with my family, being an auntie (to the cutest kids ever to grace this planet!), hosting dinner parties for friends, crafting, taking photographs and shopping.