Sunday, November 9, 2008

Scaffolding Learning: How Does This Apply to Unwritten Curriculum?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how to help kids improve their learning skills and build character. There is no written curriculum that provides expectations in this area, although I realize it is embedded in many subjects’ curriculum. This question was on my mind all week, while I attended two seemingly unrelated sessions in the Hamilton area – a Ministry symposium on the expansion of co-op and a workshop on questioning structure. When a common message began to emerge from these sessions, my soupy thoughts became clearer. Scaffold student learning.

Scaffolding is the process by which we layer student learning. The goal is to
build upon what students already know in order to help them learn something they do not know.

At the Ministry symposium on co-op, I discovered that, in an effort to prepare learners for a full co-op placement in grade 11, some schools have developed
experiential learning programs for grade nine and ten students. These are attached to guidance courses (GLE, GLS, GLN and GLD) which couple the explicit and repeated teaching of transferable workplace skills with short workplace experiences. They scaffold co-op.

At the workshop on questioning structure, I learned that in order to build higher order thinking, we need to take students on a cognitive journey through levels of questions. In other words, we need to scaffold our teaching and our questions carefully if we hope to help kids become critical thinkers.

So, it comes down to scaffolding.

The Ontario curriculum builds learning expectations from one course to the next. It also differentiates learning expectations according to students’ pathways.

But what about the unwritten curriculum? What about learning skills and character building? We cannot possibly expect the same things of students' learning skills in each grade and pathway. What does organization look like in grade nine applied, grade nine academic and grade ten applied? And how does this learning build?

When working with leaders’ councils and
inquiry teams, teachers question how to explicitly teach organization, initiative and character traits such as empathy. So how do we build this understanding? How do we build this type of student learning, a type learning that transcends our subjects' boundaries? In my opinion, this is the work of a collective. It requires planned, school-based dialogue and consensus building across the curriculum.

Perhaps you've already begun this process. I don’t think we have one simple answer, so please, share your ideas by commenting on this post.

You can also send me an email at

photo by appratt

1 comment:

  1. I have been checking out your many posts. I have been looking for "Performance wall" examples and a clear definition. Your material on performance walls in 2008 has helped me clarify the strategy in my own mind. Do you happen to know who originated either the term or the concept of the performance wall?


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