Teacher beliefs and mindsets influence all that we do, and we need to believe students can be successful. With reading in elementary school, we can provide rigorous grade-level instruction, plan for rigorous grade-level meaningful learning opportunities, and provide responsive support.
The most effective support comes in the form of just-in-time scaffolds that are temporary and provided only if needed. I focus on data to plan scaffolds (including observation and student work), rather than making assumptions about who needs them. Many scaffolds can apply to a variety of tasks, so when I offer these to students, they build their toolboxes and their empowerment and agency because they can choose to draw on these scaffolds in future opportunities.
My planning process starts by unpacking the grade-level standard to ensure that I understand what it means. I then choose a text that enables students to engage in the standard. Students need to read grade-level texts that include diverse authorship on topics that reflect the diversity of the classroom and our world. I share the learning target with students and either tell them why the task is important in school and in their lives, or ask them why they think it is, depending on the task and standard. This helps set the purpose.
Below are some of the scaffolds I provide to ensure access to the grade-level text.
Before reading a grade-level text
Determine what students already know. Students can collaborate with partners or in a small group to fill out the “Know” and “Want to Learn” sections of a KWL chart. (The “Learned” section is filled out later.) Or they can complete a knowledge map by creating a word/image web to show all they know. (Students can add to this over time, using color coding to indicate new knowledge.) By finding out what students know, I can determine their funds of knowledge and what background they need to build before reading.
Provide an introductory text (video, audio, or written). An introductory text can help build background. The text can be an easier piece of writing about the topic, a video, an audio clip, an image, etc.
Build background or preview important words. I consider which content, process, or transition words are the highest priority for students to understand and choose from a variety of strategies that will support understanding and retention of meaning.
Chunk the text. This is one of my favorite scaffolds as a learner and a teacher. I break the text into chunks, with white space between each chunk to stop and annotate or process the information.
Provide a text with color or visual cues. Using color to highlight key academic words or important details calls attention to them. Visual cues can also support main ideas or new vocabulary.
While reading a grade-level text
Read the text multiple times with different purposes to make deeper meaning. First read to understand the meaning, then reread: to explore the author’s craft, to investigate the author’s perspective or bias, and/or to synthesize main ideas or vocabulary into a graphic organizer. Rereading also improves decoding and fluency.
Read the text in a variety of ways. I gradually release responsibility when I begin by reading aloud and asking questions (I do), then with partners or small groups with some opportunities to stop and talk (you all do), and finally independent reading (you do).
After reading a grade-level text
Analyze the structure of a sentence or passage. Some of my favorite experiences with students involve examining the structure of a text. I project the text, and we discuss what we notice about the structure, while I annotate or highlight their noticings. This is interesting to students and empowers them to understand the text more deeply and make more intentional moves in their writing.
Have students write text-dependent questions. This scaffold is effective because asking questions nurtures curiosity, and students love asking each other questions and collaborating to find answers. As with all effective teaching, I begin by modeling how to write and then answer the questions using sentence stems or concise evidence-based responses.
During discussions, provide wait time for students to think before responding. I teach students to do this also when they’re in small groups or partnerships. After thinking, they can turn and talk to a partner before any whole group dialogue. This allows lots of time to think and offers oral language practice.
Teachers need to believe that students can meet or exceed grade-level standards. Then we can plan supports with intention, explicitly teach scaffolds to students, and provide coaching and feedback. By providing explicit scaffolds and providing coaching, we empower students to use scaffolds in their future learning experiences.