At the heart of all good teaching is the intent to help students grow and, ultimately, become independent learners. Scaffolding instruction—to support students through successive levels of understanding and skill acquisition—is widely seen as the best way to achieve this objective.
More than ever before, teachers are turning to technology to support their learners’ scaffolding needs. And STEM Integration Transformation Coach Victoria Thompson is committed to facilitating their efforts.
Thompson began her career as a fifth grade math and science teacher and is now an instructional designer for EduSpark, a learning specialist for NCCE, an ISTE Ambassador and an EdTech Magazine 2021 Top 30 K-12 IT influencer. Here, she shares her thoughts on the importance of scaffolding and reveals her go-to tool for doing it well.
At the heart of all good teaching is the intent to help students grow and, ultimately, become independent learners.
EdSurge: What role does scaffolding play in effective instruction?
Thompson: For me, scaffolding is a core competency in order to teach well. We are here to support our learners, maximize their success and help them enjoy their learning. As a teacher, and now an instructional coach, I think all learners need support and scaffolding.
If a learner needs support, the teacher should try to figure out how to facilitate their optimal success. Naturally, this starts with making sure one has all of the right resources and tools. However, it’s also about human support. The newer something is for a learner, the more scaffolding they may need.
I want learners to advance their independence, but I don’t want them to flounder. You can do too much, but you can also do too little. It’s about finding that middle ground. It also means I don’t treat everyone the same; I personalize support based on individuals’ needs.
What are some of the scaffolding strategies you use most often?
First and foremost, one has to start with relationship building. Foundationally, it’s about connecting with people and figuring out what their needs are. Whether with younger learners or adults, it’s all about connections—letting people know that you want to work with them and how you can help them.
Some of my common strategies are:
Regular Check-ins – These can be formal in the form of a scheduled appointment, but also informal like stopping by to just say hello.
Coaching Menus – People might not know what they don’t know. Teachers may not realize that they can co-teach, co-create a lesson, give real-time feedback after a lesson. It’s helpful to offer a menu of options.
New Teacher Connections – This is a group started this year at my school site where we meet weekly for one hour to support new teachers. We get ideas on how to support and scaffold based on common challenges, daily needs and experiences. We are trying to meet people where they are, but we have to deliberately make connections in order to do that.
Okay, let’s talk tech. Tell us about your preferred teaching technology. How does it support scaffolded instruction?
I’ve used Pear Deck for years. I really like the anonymous response feature because it builds confidence. When the name is not attached, learners are often less afraid to share. With the Teacher Dashboard, I can see all of the responses and gauge where most of the class is—what they understand and where they’re struggling. By not putting them on the spot individually, we are supporting them in their learning. We can call out where common errors and successes are.
Once we start gathering that type of feedback, we can see where and how to design future learning. The learner feedback will continually dictate our instructional moves. Pear Deck also provides great opportunities to authentically speak and participate, while giving us a chance to reflect, have deeper discussions and build mastery.
What other features of the platform do you find helpful?
Their website has great resources to get started. They have the Pear Deck Orchard, which are lessons that teachers have created and shared on the website. It always helps to see what others have done first. I take advantage of all of these. And this is in addition to Pear Deck’s templates.
I think that the SEL and Critical Thinking templates are ideal. They allow one to see what other people in the room are thinking, understand different points of view and help with problem-solution approaches. There are also great templates by subject area. I would also recommend checking out the beginning, middle and end-of-lesson templates. They really support sustained inquiry and facilitate continuous reflection from learners.
When I use Pear Deck during professional development, I’m also helping teachers see how they can use it with their students. I’d like to use Pear Deck more with instructional coaches and administrators as a way to see how we can make our staff meetings and staff development more meaningful and engaging.
Let’s talk about Pear Deck’s integration with Microsoft’s Immersive Reader technology. How have you used this feature?
I have used this quite a bit. We often think of using tools like Immersive Reader for things like English language learning or special education. It’s great for those. However, take math class as an example. Often, the challenges there have to do with whether students understand what they are being asked to do. And the challenge is even greater for English language learners.
We can now put the math problems in a tool like Immersive Reader to be heard first in one’s home language, then English. Then, we can even use a picture dictionary. This is a great example of scaffolding. I’ve even seen adults use this successfully when brushing up on a new or second language.
What other benefits does Pear Deck offer, regardless of grade level or subject matter?
I think all learners need support and scaffolding.
You can use it for exit tickets, entrance tickets, sustaining inquiry and professional development. It also works well whether something is self-paced, asynchronous or synchronous. I can see dozens of ways for it to be used in any subject area, including things like music and PE. Electives are often left out. Pear Deck’s many templates are beneficial to all subjects and grades.
Pear Deck also has amazing customer service. When I have a question, they always respond. I talk to a human being when I have a question. For me, Pear Deck is truly compassionate edtech.
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