Term Paper: Educational Observing Scaffolding the Teaching Instructional Methodology

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Educational Observing

Scaffolding

The teaching instructional methodology called scaffolding is based on Lev Vygotsky's sociocultural theory of the zone of proximal development (ZPD), or the distance between what students can accomplish by themselves and the next stage of educational development they can be helped to attain with professional assistance (Raymond, 2000, p.176). A knowledgeable individual provides scaffolds or supports to assist with the child's educational development by building on previous learned information. Learning activities are the next level up from where the learner is at the present time (Olson & Pratt, 2000).

A fifth-grade teacher used scaffolding as part of his curriculum on the Civil War. In addition to learning about the war, itself, the teacher wanted students to understand that people see the war from different viewpoints. The teacher used scaffolding to help students build from one lesson to another. The students were divided into two, with one being the Union and the other the Confederates. They were to use print and online sources provided to compile a list of the reasons why their "side" wanted (and did not want) the war. Each student then needed to write a persuasive essay or PowerPoint to present one of the arguments for/against the Civil War they learned (students were also graded separately on this activity.) the group then met to integrate the points made in the essays and PowerPoint presentations in an overall one-class-period presentation.

Previously, the students learned about the Civil War separate from English. Here, with the use of scaffolding, the students began their learning with the basics they had already acquired about the war in earlier years. At that point, the teacher asked students specific reasons why people were for and against the Civil War and posted this initial list. The students then expanded on and added to those reasons through research. The group's final presentation built on the students' input to have a better overview of war in general. The final class was adding to initial list they made on why people were for and against the Civil War to see their extent of learning through this activity. Each activity scaffolded on the previous one and became more difficult both educationally and socially (students needed to cooperatively work together).

A major goal of scaffolding is to involve the learner. Instead of a teacher/student lecture and reading in the passive traditional form of learning, the students build on previous knowledge and work together to move on to the next step of learning. Both low and high achievers have opportunity to provide input and get positive feedback. An advantage is to motivate those with lower self-esteem to want to learn and contribute.

In this observed class, the teacher used scaffolding as a group building tool. This was done rather than the other means of scaffolding where each student works with the teacher to set his/her own level of learning and receive individual lessons and goals. This is a disadvantage of scaffolding in its initial concepts. Teachers do not have the time and resources to do individual instruction. The emphasis here was on everyone contributing to the final presentation. Each person's input needed to be included.

An advantage/disadvantage was that this type of group communication was new to the students, so much of the learning was on teamwork that took time from the specific topic to be discussed. The teacher had to insure that the designated leader of the group and other high achievers did not monopolize the group discussions and final presentation. This entailed more involvement than should occur in the most productive scaffolding learning situation. Overall, the scaffolding was helpful, because the students learned much more than they would have with the traditional lecture approach. Scaffolding in this fashion is a means to further social studies, English and some science curriculum. However, it is not as applicable for mathematics and more hands-on science activities. In the next use of scaffolding, the teacher is going to form smaller groups, to encourage more input from each student.

2. Learning Styles

Howard Gardner (1991) identified seven distinct intelligences based on his theory that students possess different kinds of minds and thus learn, remember, perform, and understand in different ways. According to Gardner, individuals are able to learn about the world through language, mathematical analysis, spatial representation, musical concepts, body kinesthetics, and self-understanding. Curriculum and learning ability should thus be based on a variety of "intellects," rather than on the traditional lecture style and testing form.

The activity noted above on the Civil War provided some of this multiple learning opportunities: visual-spatial (Civil War list pros/cons; PowerPoint presentations), interpersonal (group efforts, learning how to speak up or tone down input), intrapersonal (independent study and personal reflection), and linguistic (essay, learning from multiple media). Music, body expression and mathematical were only minimally represented through other learning means. Adding role playing could be helpful.

From a standpoint of learning, this approach was very productive. Those students who are frustrated with putting their thoughts down in essay form could do it visually through their presentations. They also had an opportunity to vocally discuss what they learned. As noted, it was an effective experience from an interpersonal standpoint, with more learning required on teamwork and team building. It was also helpful in intrapersonal learning, since each student had to present his/her own thoughts based on research. Linguistically, it naturally offered a variety of opportunities for learning. Gardner's approach is very valuable and needs to be integrated into classroom instruction. However, once again, it is difficult from a resource and time constraint to integrate it as much as desired.

Student diversity

Today's classrooms are increasingly diverse both with learners with special needs due to learning and physical disabilities and with students with many cultural background. Students need to be able to understand the personal issues of others, but most of all, there needs to be respect for each others' differences. With mainstreaming of special needs students and a growing population of students designated with learning disabilities, it is essential for the teacher to address these issues of respect from the first day in class.

Instruction in today's diverse classroom with increased globalization also necessitates that teachers especially address multicultural or diversity issues. Teachers must first be aware of their own prejudices and how they may treat students differently depending on learning ability. Teachers also have to be aware of how the students treat each other due to their differences and/or similarities. The elementary school noted here has 356 students with the following ethnic break down: 39% Latino, 33% African-American, 17% white, 2% Chinese and others including Filipino, American Indian and Japanese.

One of the first classroom activities deals with respect for one another and each other's background and cultures. At this point, the teacher makes clear some of the behavior that is not acceptable in the class. If a classroom concern arises due to a multicultural, diversity or any judgmental negativity based on differences, there will be a time out while everyone writes down personal thoughts/opinions about the situation. This provides an emotional cooling down and gives the teacher some time to plan an effective response. If any student makes an obvious sexist, racist, or otherwise prejudicial or offensive comment as part of an instructional situation, he/she needs to rephrase the comment in a general fashion. It will be emphasized why those types of comments are not appropriate in or outside the classroom. In the class, each student will be treated as an individual with his/her own opinion. However, that does not give the student the right to make negative statements and action.

Meanwhile, the teacher needs to be mindful that all activities need to have examples that represent the diversity in the classroom from a gender and cultural standpoint. Any classroom materials, such as textbooks, need to be reviewed to ensure they provide the information without prejudice. If there are concerns, this can be a learning experience for the students and something for them to discuss. The teacher also has to be mindful of the various religious and nonreligious celebrations that will be occurring throughout the year based on her student population.

Low- and High-Achieving Students

In all of the areas noted above (scaffolding, multiple intelligences, diversity), low- and high-achievement comes into play. In the scaffolding activity, for example, the high achievers were much more apt to become involved with the Civil War activities. Whereas the low achievers were quiet, or sometimes negative about what needed to be done. As noted, it was important to draw these students out by asking them for their opinions and giving them positive feedback for their input. The high achievers, especially in the teamwork sessions, had to learn to become more patient and sometimes less offensive or demanding of others. This does not mean that higher achieving students will be any the less rewarded or motivated for their positive behavior. From a multiple intelligence standpoint, it is hoped that the low achievers will find something that will interest them if… [END OF PREVIEW]

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