Scaffolds & Crutches

On Monday evening, I started experiencing an odd pain on the backside of my knee. On Tuesday  morning, I woke up not being able to walk or even straighten my leg. I was experiencing a terrible amount of pain.

After a trip to the doctor’s office, I learned I sprained my knee. The timing is not ideal- but, when is it ever ideal to sprain a knee?  In six days, I’m heading out to Austin for the 2018 ILA conference. Then, in 13 days, I’m boarding a transatlantic flight to head to Spain for a long awaited two week vacation. So, needless to say, a sprained knee is not exactly welcome at the moment. However, I now have crutches and a thoughtful and wise physical therapist to support me while I am temporarily not able to walk on my own.

Crutches are a scaffold. I need them to support my efforts with walking right now. However, I will remove them gradually as I gain mobility.  I get to make that decision under the guidance of my physical therapist. If I keep using them after I gain mobility, I will actually cause more harm to myself and potentially impede my future mobility.

Using crutches to assist my walking efforts over the past few days has sparked some thinking about scaffolds in the classroom. Scaffolds, like crutches, are meant to be a temporary support that are gradually used less and less until independence or near-independence is reached.

Also, just because I need crutches right now doesn’t mean everyone with knee pain also needs crutches.  In addition, the length of time I am using crutches may be different than someone with a similar knee issue. All bodies are different with different needs. In the same way, all learners are different with different needs.

Screen Shot 2018-07-13 at 10.57.15 AMGraphic organizers in writing come to mind when I think of a scaffold similar to crutches- as a writer myself, I have never used a graphic organizer, but I have talked out ideas with other writers. Some writers prefer to make lists prior to writing, and some just need to be set free to write. The process is different for all. This also applies to young writers- their processes are just as varied as adult processes and should be honored. Like crutches, graphic organizers can cause more harm than good when inappropriately used- why give a writer a contrived organizing tool when they actually don’t need it? It would be like giving someone without an injury crutches and asking them to walk using them. It just doesn’t make sense. That being said, sometimes, some writers may choose to use a graphic organizer of sorts to help themselves. The key is to help our writers learn what they need so they can advocate and make decisions for themselves- not to just give them a crutch.

The same thinking applies to insisting early readers use their fingers to point to words while reading when they are tracking successfully with their eyes.

Or, in group discussions, requiring students to select a sentence starter from a list when they want to think of what to say on their own.

I could go on and on.

Scaffolds can impede thinking and actually harm the learning process when they are not removed or if they are unnecessarily used.  Rather than discuss every single scaffold that may be used in the classroom, I just ask that all of us consider the need before the scaffold, and ask if a scaffold is even necessary.

Every morning when I wake up, I am reevaluating my need to use crutches. I’m even reevaluating as I move through the day. When the need is no longer there, the scaffold (or crutch) will be removed. Using a scaffold after it has outlived its necessity creates a new kind of pain, one that is difficult to overcome.

I hope when I see many of you at ILA next week, I will have outgrown my need for the crutches. But, it will be ok if I’m just not quite there yet. The decision will be mine. Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could empower our students to make the decision about scaffolds theirs, too?

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My first book for teachers, cowritten with Kari Yates, To Know and Nurture a Reader: Conferring with Confidence and Joy is available to order from Stenhouse Publishers! 

4 thoughts on “Scaffolds & Crutches

  1. I hope you are off the crutches next week. But maybe it will only be for part of the day! 🙂

    Such a great comparison. Requiring every student in the room to use the same graphic organizer or the same sentence starter is so tedious for many students. They can be helpful. But they can also build so much dependency when students begin to thin the organizer or sentence starter is the “expected” or “right” answer!

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  2. This crutch metaphor is very useful, in more ways than one. I hope you are off them soon. I think your knee may have a mind of its own. Sometimes we remove an organizing tool for a kid too quickly, and sometimes they depend on them too much. A delicate balance.

    Like

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