Should I Stay or Should I Go: Thoughts on Scaffolds

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Million dollar question for all parents–How do you know when to let go and when to hold on? While this question has permeated my thoughts throughout the raising of my children, it now consumes me as my two sons navigate their high school years. I would love a black and white answer, but unfortunately I have come to realize that their isn’t a script for parenting (despite all of the books). I have also come to realize that parenting isn’t about holding on or letting go– it’s about both. The challenge is that supporting them and letting them go isn’t a linear process, it is cyclical. It is that old one step forward, two steps back sort of thing. They don’t all of sudden wake up one day and make great decisions. Do you ever hear a parent saying– “I remember it so vividly. The day Johnny never made a bad decision again it was Feb. 14 1999, we were done.” Heck no! My mother is 82 years old and I still look to her when I need help and support. She still holds on to me through her letters and advice. It’s about the degree to which we do these things.

How do you know if what you are doing is too much or too little? The conclusion I have come to (and this is a work in progress for sure) is to become incredibly observant, be totally present when you get the small window when they want to be in your presence, and talk, talk, talk.

The holding on, letting go question keeps popping up when thinking about how scaffolds are currently being used in many classrooms. Like many of us parents, teachers hold on too tight and never release, resulting in limited ability to apply new learning independently or release right away and get frustrated when students aren’t able to be independent. Using the lessons of parenthood may help teachers determine when to hold on or let go. Consider the following parenting tips:

Be incredibly observant– teachers need to listen to their students responses during large and small group instruction in order to determine what support (if any is needed). Take cues from students, observing and listening them provides incredible insight into their needs.

Be present- walking around the room during group work is a classroom managment technique isn’t enough. Listening to students and providing questions, cues, and prompts are scaffolds that students need during the learning process. Sitting at the desk or simply circulating the room is akin to parent focusing on their cell phone when their kids are in the room talking to their friends– a colossal missed opportunity.

Understand that learning isn’t linear- the types and amount of scaffolds provided will need to be adjusted as learning occurs and may even need to be reintroduced if they were removed too soon.

Foster academic talk- We make meaning by processing new learning and their is no better way to do that than to have students talk to each other. Create an environment where rich academic talk is the norm.

High quality instruction is much like being a good parent. It starts with having standards, knowing what you want them to know and do, instilling this in them, observing behaviors and providing the right supports (scaffolds). No easy task, but so worth the effort.

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