My second observation – Scaffolding
I had my second observation by my Faculty Advisor, Dave, this past week, and it was challenging to say the least. The lesson was on summarizing non-fiction texts using a text about stress to support our Friendship and Mental Health Unit. I had worked out a plan with Dave to attempt to scaffold the learning with an “I do, we do, you do” approach.
This was an introduction to this topic, so my plan was to keep it light and playful with a fun activity. My students love technology and working in pairs, so I planned to use both to make the activity engaging.
As I started the lesson, I felt quite nervous and forgot to introduce the topic to the students to access prior knowledge and build interest. However, students were very engaged as we reviewed the results of the pre-assessment reflection questionnaire. I do one of these for each topic of the unit, and will use them as the summative assessment at the end of the unit. The students love them.
However, when I moved on to introduce the topic of summarizing, a pit formed in my stomach as the lesson went sideways. I worried about losing the high-achieving students, as they were showing signs of checking out with the scaffolding approach. I started to rush through so we could get to the ‘fun’ activity.
There were points where I asked for class contributions, and the students did not volunteer, which was, in hindsight, an effect of the lack of scaffolding. I also did not explain the graphic organizer for this lesson, which confused the students, so there was chaos around that.
However, it wasn’t all bad. When we did get to the fun parts, the students were very engaged. More importantly, there was evidence they had learned some preliminary summarizing skills as their sample summaries were, for the most part, very good.
I ended the lesson feeling buoyed by the engagement and the strong summaries, despite the hiccups at the start.
What resonated for me
The conversation with Dave after the observation was challenging—there was primarily critical feedback, which surprised me. Of course I knew the lesson was far from perfect, but I had felt overall it was successful. I left the conversation feeling deflated, but also armed with a lot valuable feedback and resource suggestions.
The feedback that resonated most with me is the following:
- When the students do not volunteer participation, it means they don’t feel confident enough about the content/topic. This is a key learning for me because it was something I had seen, but not recognized consciously. Knowing this, I hope in the future I will have the wherewithal to momentarily pause and reflect. Perhaps I can pivot the lesson, or go back a few steps to scaffold or find a common solid ground with the students.
- When giving feedback, I need to be careful not to give the impression that I prefer some students over others. During the lesson, I gave public feedback on the summaries, and used praise for good summaries, and pointed out flaws in summaries that were lacking. Dave explained this was not a healthy classroom practice, and instead instructed me to use objective criteria instead, and to use “Noticing” as in “I noticed that you did….” which does not come across as judgmental.
What area can I continue to grow in?
Moving forward, I want to simplify my lessons, slow down and stop rushing through content. I need to feel the room and make sure students understand each piece before moving on to the next piece, and I need to let of my expectations about how the lesson should go. As Dave said, “It’s better to do just one thing and make sure they understand and can do it well, rather than get many things done poorly.”
I also want to involve students more in the parts of the lesson where I am talking or explaining. Rather than just going over content, I can ask questions like, “what do you notice about this?” or “What stands out to you?”
Similarly, when introducing a topic, I need to remember to access prior knowledge first. I had planned to do that in this lesson, but because of my nerves and my rush to get through to the fun parts, I forgot to follow the script. This is further evidence that I need to slow down and simplify.
In terms of finding support, I will chat with my SA and ask for her help in preparing more simple lessons, and specifically ask her to observe me giving positive/negative feedback in public. I plan to teach this same lesson next week, so I will have an opportunity to try out many of Dave’s suggestions.
Furthermore, I want to find resources on scaffolding and how to give public, whole-class feedback. I value constructing and assessing as a group, which is also part of my inquiry, and the students are also very engaged when we do things together as a group, so this is something I need to learn how to do well.
In our debrief, Dave mentioned the following resources:
- Alphie Kohn writes about the problem with praise and has an entire website devoted to this idea that praise is actually a negative thing.
- Faye Brownlie uses techniques of thinking aloud, which will help with scaffolding and unpacking the thought process behind a literacy technique.
An unexpected observation
After the observation debrief I felt quite low, but little did I know that I had passed an entirely different observation I hadn’t even known was happening. The guidance counsellor found me and told me she’d met with one of the students during lunch “[This student] really liked your lesson on stress,” she said. This student is one rarely participates in activities, but during the lesson that student had contributed a very strong summary.
Afterward, that student came up to me and said, “Ms. Sims, I just want you to know that I like you. I like talking to you, and I feel good around you.” This really touched and reminded me that I’m being observed all the time, not just when the faculty advisor comes, and that sometimes even the worst lessons can connect with students.