Today I’m starting a new series on my blog that addresses a much-needed topic (for me at least): scaffolding. Together we’ll look at a few strategies and supports to help our students with language difficulties. This will definitely get me ready to kick it into high gear when school begins in a couple of weeks. So grab yourself a hot cup of coffee, get comfortable, and let’s chat for a bit.
What is it?
Scaffolding is the process in which an adult facilitates learning by building upon what a child already knows. The adult provides support, then gradually withdraws it until the student can perform the task independently. This is based on Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, which tells us that kids have a range of skill levels that they can do with or without help. I know I know, that was a grad school throw back for many of you.
Picture this scenario for a minute. You are Miss Fabulous Therapist ready to take on the world. Tommy is a student on your caseload with a language disorder. You walk into his 4th grade classroom because, of course, you are pushing-in to give him better access to the curriculum. The class is learning about figurative language, and the teacher gives an independent assignment. Tommy stares at the worksheet then gives you that “blank” look (OR #reallife He starts acting out, groaning, or pretending to be “tired” because he knows he doesn’t understand). What do you do? How can you help him?
Scaffolding Tip #1: Verbal Cues
Verbal cues are the most common form of scaffolding. It comes pretty natural to most people, and sometimes you don’t even realize you are doing it. Oh, and guess what? This strategy is completely evidenced based. (Cue the hallelujah chorus) Let’s take a look at some of these verbal techniques, so we can make sure we are scaffolding the right way.
Strategies, Studies, & Examples
A 2010 study by Losardo and Botts showed that children improved their literacy skills when the SLP used the following scaffolding hierarchy, from least support to high support:
- General Non-verbal – looks, gestures, wait time
- The SLP holds up a picture, points, then looks expectantly at the child.
- Comment – Verbally providing information about the topic or modeling your thinking
- SLP – “I think frogs like to swim in ponds.”
- Question – SLP asks a direct question to the child (example: SLP asks, “Where do frogs live?”)
- 1) open-ended question – elicits a variety of possible responses
- 2) closed question – elicits a specific response
- 3) yes/no question – elicits a “yes” or “no” response
- Direction – An explicit instruction that requires a response from the child
- SLP – “Tell me, the frog lives in the pond.”
This hierarchy could easily be applied to a variety of language learning goals. Some students need the highest form of support then have the support gradually reduced. Others benefit more when given the lowest level of support then built up to a higher level if they do not respond correctly.
Other types of evidenced-based verbal scaffolding strategies include:
- Cloze procedures – The adult provides the first part of an utterance and the child completes the thought.
- SLP- “The dog took a bath because _____.”
- Expansions – The student gives a response and the adult expands upon that response using appropriate grammar and vocabulary.
- Student- “Him dirty.” SLP- “Yes, he was very dirty.”
- Binary choice – The adult gives a child a choice between 2 responses.
- SLP- “Where is the dog, in the yard or in the house?”
- Modeling – The adult models the correct response for the student.
- SLP- “The dog is in the yard. Where is the dog?”
(Liboiron & Soto 2006, Bradshaw Hoffman & Norris 1998, Wood Bruner & Ross 1976)
How do I use this in therapy?
These strategies could be implemented in an endless amount of ways. They can be used with a preschooler who is working on expanding his language, or even with a school-aged child who is learning to comprehend a text. It’s important to take into consideration what works for each child and taylor your cues to best meet their needs.
Although I know I learned many of these in grad school and do most on a daily basis, it’s a good reminder to be mindful of what you are saying to your students and how you are supporting them.
When I take daily notes on my students, I like to note the level of support that they needed. If a student was only able to come up with an answer given specific models or directions, it’s definitely not the same as if he gave an answer when only given an expectant look. I usually mark if the support was high, medium, or low and list the type of cues I used.
As SLPs, it’s important that we don’t keep these strategies to ourselves. By sharing some of these with teachers and other educators, we can provide students with a great support system!
Take a second and think about your caseload. When could you put some of these verbal cues into practice? I use these a lot in the classroom, but also in my speech room when using book companions, specific task cards, or even tackling the language in word problems.
I hope this post was helpful to you! Stay tuned for next time when we talk about visual cues!