I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have a horrible sense of direction. To get from point A to point B, even if I’ve been there before, even if it’s in my hometown or in Muncie, I need step by step directions. My friends make fun of me for how clueless I am and I’ve gotten hopelessly lost too many times to count just for turning the wrong way out of the parking lot. Needless to say, my phone is always in my cupholder giving step by step directions in its obnoxiously fake voice.
But recently I’ve noticed that when the GPS is giving directions to a familiar place, I can anticipate what it’s going to say. I still need the support in case I turn left instead of right or miss a street and get confused, but I don’t fully lean on that crutch as much as I did the first time I went there. For many places in my hometown I leave the GPS off altogether, no longer dependent on it. My engineer dad, who can navigate his own hometown 30-some years later, rarely uses a GPS at all.
This is obviously an imperfect example but my own learning to drive and the external support I need to do that (a GPS) reminds me of students learning to write, and the external support we provide them to do that: Scaffolding.
For class today we did two readings: Chapter 2 of Smagorinsky, in which he explains his own Structured Process Approach to teaching writing and gives an example assignment. We also read a piece about the importance of scaffolding by our very own Dr. Benko.
We began the class in groups deepening our understanding of both readings and finding connections between the two. Here are some highlights of what we discussed:
- Scaffolding is a beneficial process when combined with other tools/methods. (Beth, Cassie, and Makayla)
- Teachers highlight elements of a task that might be confusing or difficult and teaches mini-lessons (one-on-one, small group, or whole class) focuses on that particular element. (Me, Brittany, and Alyssa)
- Not just the tools are important in scaffolding, but it is the useful and thoughtful utilization of those tools. (Benji, Kaleb, and Kayla)
- Smag’s assignment to write a letter to the couple recommending which restaurant would best meet their family’s needs and wants for their desired budget–and the need to prioritize some of those factors over others–demands a level of critical thinking that many writing assignments don’t have. It reminded me of brain teasers you’d see in a children’s magazine.
- Math isn’t scary! (Just kidding it definitely still totally is)
- Student ownership allows them to be more invested in their own learning
- Individualized attention for students. Teachers should be mindful of their own attitude and processes, and be willing to tweak their teaching in order for students to “get it”
- Models serve as a demonstration of the writing process and as a reference to help achieve the final process. Models can be work by other students, work by the teacher, or professional authors.
- Brittany, Alyssa, Dr. Benko, and I debated about the authenticity of Smag’s assignment: A fake list of people with needs and wants, a fake audience (the couple the letter is going to), random restaurants. After some back and forth, we concluded that while we could tweak this assignment (using local restaurants or writing the letter directly to the teacher instead of a fake couple), not every single assignment is going to be totally authentic and personal to the students. It’s just not possible. But the logic and group work aspects of this task are so stellar, it’s still a worthwhile assignment. For me, this conversation was a good reminder that not every element of a writing task (intellectual merit, purpose, audience, ownership) has to be “High” for it to be a great task.
We also took a few minutes to discuss some questions related to scaffolding.
How does modeling fit into Smag’s process? (Several of us were surprised and even a little upset that he said “Models for students to follow in their writing are minimized or discarded.” –page 23)
Beth expressed concern that models may lead to students copying the style of the author too closely and not finding their own voice. In our small group, Alyssa recognized that too many models can be overwhelming–leading to information overload. This goes back to the idea of models and scaffolding being used alongside other tools. As Benko pointed out, as we all nodded along, any of the elements of scaffolding in isolation is not scaffolding.
Alivia and I pointed out that the genre of the work matters: It’s a problem if all creative writing pieces sound the same, but resumes and letters have a set structures and similar language.
We discussed that sometimes working closely with a text can be a helpful starting point or exercise. Dr. Benko shared that while studying abroad in England as an undergrad, she wrote a poem in the style of Dr. Seuss, paying attention to his unique rhyme and rhythm. I’d love to read that!
We established that in general, the role of models is to start close and then move away.
How much influence did the teacher actually have in Smag’s task?
At first, many people reacted to this question with “The book doesn’t tell us how this task worked in practice. We can’t guess or assume.” Kaleb then clarified that they were asking how much teacher involvement we might typically see Smag’s structured process approach, not necessarily for the restaurant task specifically.
We realized we couldn’t know very much about the teacher’s role in Smag’s model, but Dr. Benko said something thought provoking about a teacher’s role in a the classroom more generally:
Peek into any middle school or high school classroom and notice just one thing: How are all of the desks arranged?
Is the teacher the ultimate giver of knowledge, with their desk taking up the front of the room, students in rows listening to the information being delivered? Are student desks in small groups so they can interact and share with each other, with the teacher acting more as a facilitator of learning than a deliverer of information? Are all the desks–Teacher included–in a circle to promote discussion and a level playing field?
Classroom culture and the physical classroom environment is important.
No one really commented on this idea in class, but on Twitter, we exploded in appreciation for student empowerment.
Since we all seemed pumped about this idea of classroom design relating to student ownership, here’s a neat article with all kinds of resources and information about how the physical environment of a classroom affects our relationship with students and their relationships with each other: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/the-physical-environment-of-classrooms-mark-phillips
As promised, we had a fun activity involving drawing. We tried to represent how scaffolding, SPA, and writing tasks in pictures. More on that next class!
This was my group. We’re so creative we drew literal scaffolding to represent scaffolding. We also have the Meta roof: Asking questions about like why did you do this? how did you do you this? what was hard? what was easy? what’s your favorite part? As a creative writing minor, I almost always have to reflect on drafts I turn in. It’s the best and worst part for the same reason: it makes me think long and hard about what I put on the page.
I love how many different ways we chose to represent these ideas.
Some friendly reminders:
- Tweaked schedule: Rachel is leading class Thursday so Dr. Benko can celebrate her kid’s awesomeness. Looks like we’ll be doing an activity based on Smag chapter 3 “Teaching Fictional Narrative” so get your imaginations warmed up.
- Coffee does not equal food
- Have y’all read this article by NCTE? Really funny and timely with what we’ve been talking about “My Anti-Five Paragraph Essay Five Paragraph Essay” http://blogs.ncte.org/index.php/2016/09/anti-five-paragraph-essay-five-paragraph-essay/
- This weekend–Saturday September 17th–is the Indiana Teachers of Writing Conference at Marion University in Indianapolis. Inexpensive for students, lunch included, a great opportunity to meet real life teachers doing really cool things with real students, and Dr. Jones is presenting about teaching writers on the Autism Spectrum. And your Ball State friends will be there.
Check it out here: http://www.indianateachersofwriting.com/2016-itw-conference
And a question!
What are you writing this week? How’s it going?