Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Scaffolding. That's the educationalese word of the day.
Let's take a math problem, for example. Graph four points on a coordinate grid, draw the line that connects two corners. Find the length of the line. Now pass in the paper.

What do you get? A bunch of blank papers? A bunch of points scattered over the paper? And/or numbers plugged into something resembling a formula?

Not of course if I'm in the room- because I cheat Wait, I mean scaffold. Forget the fact that no one wants to give me the time of day on a non test day- come the quiz I am a hot commodity
First of all I write the problem very neatly, so I used to teach third grade, high school juniors also get confused by unaligned numbers, misshapen letters and lines that defy the rule of physics that says two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. I give hints, before I even leave the board. And then I flit around the room like a butterfly on roller skates, trying to get to everyone who suddenly feels like I might be the most useful person in the world.

So at the end of the period, just about everyone has gotten the points plotted, found the diagonal and one way or the other discovered the midpoint.

"Sometimes you have to scaffold," I tell the teacher. "If you fail everybody all the time you end up hating the kids, yourself, math and the whole universe. "

She nods in agreement. "But what about the real tests, when you can't scaffold?" she asks.

Knowing when and how to remove the scaffold, that's the art of teaching. Have I mastered it? Probably not, maybe tomorrow I will take off the roller skates.

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