Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Scaffolding in the Classroom

In the days before I knew about more effective practices, I used to assign my learners to practice their spelling words by writing sentences that contained their words - just like my teacher did to me. Unlike my teacher, I allowed learners to write as many or as few sentences that they cared to as long as they incorporated all of their spelling words. 

I will never forget one of my students, Henry, who always turned in this assignment with some of the most amazing sentences that always revealed a very creative story as the sentences flowed from one line to the next. Henry was always so proud of his work. There was just one small problem I had with his sentences every single week. His sentences NEVER included ANY of the spelling words. In vain I attempted to explain to him of my problem. He just simply was too wrapped up in his writing to take time to consider these words that had no use to him. 

I wonder what Vygotsky would have thought about Henry. In Mind and Society (1978), Vygotsky provides some insight into an experiment conducted by A.N. Leontiev wherein he examined the potential signs played during memory activities. Children were asked basic questions would illicit a color (red, blue yellow, green, etc.) for an response. In one of the activities, cards with colors were laid before the children as they answered these questions. The transcribed data revealed that the were not a feature that was heavily relied on by the children, and in some cases they got in the way for the children as they tried to answer the questions (Vygotsky 1978). 

 I am aware that Henry's story isn't exactly like the research Vygotsky explained, but the research still made me think about the symbols we impose upon students and expect that they use them I wonder what other resources educators use, with good intention, that actually are limiting students as they make an effort to construct their own meaning or draw from their own understanding. 


  1. The use of math flash cards and charts are resurfacing as tools and signs to assist students with understanding math concepts. Although, these may be helpful to some students, it is important that students are able to understand the concept. When students fully understand the concept they will be able to construct their own meaning of how to successfully solve math problems.

  2. The student's do come to school with different sets of symbols that they recognize to have meaning. Heath, Berkenkotter and Barton all describe the various ways that students develop meaningful symbols. I think, that as Henry wrote he was expressing his history of literacy symbols that were meaningful to him. While it wasn't the assignment unfortunately it was an expression that may have been offering an new vision or direction to class opportunities. Here I think of Moje's article where students that were not considered to be the best in the class and yet when it came to writing their thoughts and ideas about being part of the gangster culture their writing showed strong expressions of their ideals and yet were dismissed by the teachers. That said, I think there is room for opportunity for both kinds of writing that will encourage the student's literacy skills and build history that can provide for affirmation of their cultural literacy identity.