The most important skill that we can ever give to developing children is the confidence that they can think and do things and take responsibility for themselves.
During a visit to Winchester a few months ago, a strange structure was being built in the grounds, at the same time as scaffolding was being put up around one end of the building. The size and shape of the structure made it look like an alternative for services during the summer months, while work was being done. In reality, it was the topping for the scaffolding structure, to go over the roof, to enable that to be completely renovated. The complete scaffolding was enabling a safe and close examination of problems in the roof. Of course, when the original building was put up, scaffolding was timber. Health and Safety were not of concern. Scaffolding holds nothing up, other structures, like buttresses do that.
An interesting reflection, perhaps, that the erection of the scaffolding within the work programme would have been subject to a detailed project plan, scaffolding the elements so that everything was done on time. The link between project planning and planning for learning, has always, to me, been self-evident.
In the beginning was the baby, dependent on surrounding adults and older siblings for survival, for food, for warmth and the comforts of a safe, dry home.
Gradually, with these basic needs available, the baby grows, begins to move about, to become aware of their surroundings, to take an interest, to find and develop muscles that one day will enable them to stand and to walk and to begin a broader exploration of the world. It is with encouragement, praise, demonstrations of pleasure, from the adults to the baby/toddler that encourages them to repeat things, to get a little better, so that the praise and pleasures are repeated. It is a mutual process. Parents notice the small and sometimes larger changes, especially with the first born, as each milestone is ticked off, which is comforting. For the parents of children whose development is not in line with expectation, worry may well replace positivity, anxiety sometimes leading to negativity.
With guidance and support, being shown how to do things, “coached” along the way to get better the child begins to do things for themselves, by developing a self-awareness, so that they begin to talk and explain simply their needs and effective toilet training enables the child to independently take on that task. Before starting school, to undress and dress is important, especially for the teacher, who does not want to have to undress and dress thirty under-fives in order to do physical activity.
The first half of my teaching career was with large classes and no teaching assistant. I am not going to bang the drum for the past, but, as teachers, the lack of additional adult meant that we had to be self-sufficient and find methodologies for challenging and supporting all the children, across all subjects. The use of the integrated day supported that need, as children were often taught in small groups within the class. The development of independence was encouraged, within challenging tasks tailored to the needs of each group, some of which were collaborative, so that discussion underpinned decision making.
“Scaffolding” was provided largely by selecting appropriate models, for example using Dienes’ multibase for exemplifying and solving mathematical problems. Storyboarding supported writing. Sharing good outcomes, with displays of children’s work, both showed the possibilities and also created a pleasant working environment. It was my workshop for the year too.
Scaffolding, as a notion, appeared on my professional compass around 1986, with the arrival of the National Writing Project. This took off locally and the majority of schools joined the project, to good effect, as the writing process was stripped apart and put back together, within the already existing creative contexts. It enables structures to be created that sought to emphasise certain aspects of writing and to break away from the beginning, middle, end that had become the norm. Used across all subjects, scaffolds allowed drafting and redrafting to a purpose, always with an intended audience in mind. It was ok to stop at the first draft for some writing, to avoid overload.
The Overhead Projector (OHP), with the advent of the school photocopier, was useful to share and scaffold next learning steps.
Class and personal books were regularly created, to showcase outcomes.
The employment of Teaching Assistants has created interesting new dynamics within classrooms, in that, apart from the needs of the children, the additional adult(s) has/have to be allocated to tasks that are worthwhile for them as well as the children. This relatively new dynamic has the potential to debilitate the teacher, in that an over-reliance on additional adults can cause a form of panic if they are not present. I know that it is an area where schools are conscious of the need to explore TA deployment. It is important to be able to show the added value as a result of having additional adults at extra cost. Some teachers see the deployment of the TA as their approach to differentiation. If the tasking is not appropriate, this is unlikely to be the case.
It is essential to ensure that tasks accomplished with the support of the teacher, a teaching assistant, or through following a set scheme of instructions, can be checked through independent challenge. Without independence, the child can get to performance with ill-formed skills, so cannot fulfil the new task.
Let them stand and get strong. What they can do for themselves, let them do for themselves.
Learning to let go can be a hard decision for a parent or a teacher.
If you have an interest in trees, as I have, you will know that there have been several schools of thought about whether and how to stake young trees. There is a school of thought that trees grow stronger without stakes to hold the trunks; that the swaying in the wind actually enables the tree to ensure it develops its strength. Tall and thin may not enable long term survival.