Scaffolding the Learning

26 July 2015

It's getting pretty close to back to school time again (and it's already that time for some of you).  Don't panic.  I've gotten together with some of my best upper grade blogging friends to create a back to school survival guide full of our best tips and tricks for you.  So ... relax and breathe.  And then breathe again.  We're all in this together.

If you are a brand new teacher, or are starting a new grade level this year (like I am), one of the first things you do is start to scour the curriculum to see the expectations and standards you need to cover.  And usually the second thing you do is start to panic, wondering how you are going to fit it all in and tie it all together in a neat little package so that your students are demonstrating their learning in those perfect little constructed responses that are required. The most important thing to remember is that these standards and expectations and constructed responses are something that students should know by the END of the year (or by testing time, which is often sooner ... but that's a post for another day).  You (and your students) have TIME to get there.

Scaffold the Learning:
Although you do need to start out right away teaching the expectations and standards, you don't need to expect full constructed responses from your students right away.  Let them start slow - their brains are hard at work learning the new concepts - give them a chance to master the material first.

When I do start them on constructed responses, I start out with one simple step.  I introduce our first response learning goal by the second week of school - and I keep it easy by starting with "start with part of the question in your answer" in reading and "plan your organization" in math.  We talk about why each learning goal is an important part of the constructed response, and we color code these parts when practicing our responses.

I scaffold the learning by introducing one step at a time, and give them time to master it before adding a second step.  This way the students aren't struggling to remember all the steps to constructed responses as well as the lesson standards and expectations for the concepts taught.  I keep a bulletin board of these learning goals (our response learning goals) and we slowly add to them each time I introduce a new goal (adding a new goal about every two weeks or so).  By January, we have a complete set of learning goals for our constructed responses, giving the students the rest of the year to practice combining the concepts they've learned with their constructed responses learning goals.  And by keeping the learning goals posted (written in the color they should use to color code their responses) they have a reference they can use independently to improve their responses.  By having them color code their responses, I find it increases student accountability and accuracy incredibly - they know what is missing from their responses and have time to add to their answers before handing something in for assessment.

Our first learning goal for responses in reading is "start with the question".  It gets posted on our bulletin board.  As we continue to add learning goals over the coming weeks, I place each one on the bulletin board below the one before it.
Our first learning goal for constructed responses in math is to "plan your organization".  This starting point helps them think about how to show their solutions in a neat and organized way that makes it easy to read (and assess).  Again, like in the reading, we continue to add learning goals to this bulletin board.

By January, our boards are a lot fuller and look more like this ...

The wonderful thing about scaffolding the learning is that you can work at the pace your students need - they will not get left behind.  Because you have time, you can spend longer on a certain area that your students have not mastered yet.  And because everyone continues to work on the same goal, there can be a lot of peer collaboration and helping in the classroom.  I like to do a lot of "turn and talks" where the students discuss with a neighbor how they will include the new learning goal in their answer and show each other what they have written.

You can read a little more about the strategies I use and see some of our work along the way in other blog posts I have written about this step-by-step process to building better responses.  Click HERE to see our scaffolded reading goals in action, and HERE to see our scaffolded math goals in action.  Each blog post also contains links to other blog posts I have written about this process.

You can create your learning goals based on the needs in your classroom, or if you're interested, I have made ready-to-use resources for scaffolding the learning that contain all the learning goals, posters, book marks, reflection sheets, scaffolded handouts, assessment ideas and activities for the students.  These are some of my most favorite resources I've created and they are invaluable in my classroom.  Click on any of the resources below or on the picture to the right to see a preview of my Building Better Responses resources.

Be sure to visit the blogs below to read their best Survival Tips, as well.  Have a GREAT start of the year!!!


  1. I don't do fb or instagram, but just wanted you to know this was a great post!

  2. Love this post. I am off to read more about your response boards.

    My Bright Blue House