Modelling and scaffolding: a deeper learning curve

By Debbie Coad, Lead Practitioner, Head of English and T&L coach

It was time to select a CPD route at Farnham Heath End School. All were invaluable but I felt that Modelling and Scaffolding would be an exciting way to move both my practice and my students forward.

First steps: what is current thinking on modelling and scaffolding? Well, in a hugely important and successful research paper being foregrounded in education this year, Barak Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction, Rosenshine states: ‘Providing students with models and worked examples can help them to learn to solve problems faster.’ (Rosenshine 2012) And therein lies the overlap with scaffolding. Andy Tharby promotes the ‘I do. We do. You do.’ model at Durrington High School, and this was an early starting point for my investment in modelling this year, alongside ensuring everyone in the English Department had a visualiser (a worthwhile dent in the budget). Tharby’s article on modelling in the TES (‘How to use modelling successfully in the classroom’) was posted onto the Modelling and Scaffolding CPD group’s Google Classroom page (more on this later), and away we went.

It soon became clear that I was getting stuck at the ‘You do’ stage. Once the modelling scaffolds had been removed and it was over to the students, there were too many hands up seeking support, despite a model that we had written on screen (and hopefully the dialogue alongside it remembered). Thinking cap back on.

In mid-November I posted on our Classroom page: I have been breaking down modelling more with the ‘I do, we do, you do model’ (thanks for this simple articulation from the last session).’ I do’ can be tricky if I do not use language accessible to all students but I explain my vocabulary rather than ‘dumb down’. ‘We do’ is a great opportunity for praise and success. The ‘you’ do phase is causing me the problems. Once I remove myself and ask students to use the scaffolding provided, their lack of resilience and claims of a lack of understanding make the next stage tricky. This is with particular reference to a mixed ability year 10 class, where expected grades range from 2 – 7. Any ideas or offers of an observation, gratefully received.

I got three responses from colleagues:

Could weaker students work in pairs on the “you do” stage? It might help them to feel more confident’.

I am having the same issue. The ‘I do’ works well followed by the ‘we do’. However its the ‘you do’ where it seems to fall apart slightly. Yesterday, I tried timing students to action the ‘you do’. I projected a 10minute timer on the board and asked them to complete the ‘you do’ in silence. This seemed to help and gave the students a focus’.

So important to explain the vocabulary Debbie, rather than dumbing the vocabulary down. A really important step in modelling anything to students. If they cannot access the vocabulary, then most of what we do is then lost on the student. Worth reading the recent blog of the week on this if needs be, for those unsure of how to explain the vocabulary’. https://missdcoxblog.wordpress.com/2018/09/16/a-focus-on-knowledge-vocabulary-rich-teaching/

The Google Classroom page really took shape in November and December, with resources, suggestions, discussions and invitations to observe. Ideas trialled in class included modelling of the marking process so that ownership could be given to the students, scaffolding of a multi-step process in maths, and reinforcing the need for great explanation first.

2019 dawned and I finally began to process more research on cognitive load theory and this coincided with being shown a video wherein a maths teacher used silent modelling. (The ‘silent way’ was developed for teaching MFL by Caleb Gattegno but more recently celebrated by Craig Barton (‘How I Wish I’d Taught Maths’). The lights went on! I could do this in English. I thought of my year 9 group and realised that, during the ‘I do’ and ‘we do’ phases of the modelling, students had often been too busy making a record of the model rather than listening to what I had been saying about the process: why we were doing what we were doing and how to execute it. Enter the silent teacher.

My year nine group (levels 1 – 6) were delighted that I had chosen them to try out something new. I had prepared. And it was magical. I was being observed by our NQT (the lesson was her regular slot, so she knew the group well.) Students who often had the urge to talk were silent; fidgeters were focused. And how did I know? Cold-calling, asking them to unpick the thought processes, the whys and wherefore, showed they had understood how to analyse a text (‘Romeo and Juliet’) at word level. The cognitive load was more appropriate: sitting and watching rather than having to answer questions or making notes during the process. I felt empowered. I had to share. And now a number of other teachers at FHES have tried silent teaching and have felt its substance and potency (although we all agree that this has to part of our toolkit – to do it all the time would lessen its impact.)

This led me to video a lesson using the silent teacher method. I have only just posted it onto the Google Classroom to share with colleagues (some seven or eight weeks after filming). Why? I had further reflections to offer and puzzles to unpick. The ‘you’ do phase was still a sticking point even, to a certain extent, with those students who really understood the analytical skills I had been focusing on. ‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood’ and I was forced to look elsewhere. It wasn’t the modelling or the scaffolding. I didn’t believe it was the explanation. So what road did I need to explore now.

Parallel to this exploration was my interest and involvement (as Head of English) in curriculum design. The English team, as many English Departments well attest to, had considered itself to be a skills-based subject (teaching students the skills of reading, writing and spoken language, to apply to unseen texts). With the rising success of the use of Knowledge Organisers, English Literature texts fitted the bill nicely while it was a little more tricky to write KOs for English Language. Alex Quigley, for the EEF talks of students needing to ‘marshall knowledge’ and in a blog posting by The Dusty Sundoku: ‘What about skills? Teaching English in a knowledge-rich school’, an exploration of a knowledge-rich curriculum led me to reconsider what we needed to do with our English curriculum.

So, I have come to the conclusion that if they have not grasped with confidence the knowledge needed to underpin the analysis, how can they apply the skills?

Next steps? We are focusing on a knowledge-rich curriculum in Key Stage Three which sets them up for references to Greek mythology, Biblical allusions and contextual understanding, as well as dividing into stages the acquisition of knowledge for texts in a three-year Key Stage Four. So, a study of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ will begin with plot and character in year 9, revisited in year 10 (Themes and context,) then analysis and exam responses practised in year 11 (with spaced retrieval practice and interleaving via our 5-a-days built in).

We are also going to step the exam question scaffolding. A year 9 exam on Romeo and Juliet will feature a previewed question and a quotation bank (with both relevant and irrelevant quotations to determine who understands what is being said); the quotations will be removed in year 10, and the preview of questions will not be available when testing year 11s.

It’s going to be an exciting year evaluating what works and what needs tweaking in a profession where everything is a work in progress and nothing is ever finished.

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