It's currently the beginning of the year, and most states have gotten their WIDA or state test scores back. Teachers are now looking at what classes to place their English Learners based off of the data. This is a time of rejoice when you see how well your students did on their tests, and it is also a time of reflection to see why some students just didn't grow like you thought they would.
And this is a great time to bring in the idea of over-scaffolding. As ESL teachers, we love to provide the right scaffolds to teachers when we see our students struggling in a content-area classes and we love to help content be comprehensible. It's kind of what we do. But what if it's hindering our students?
Here are two good indicators to help you see if you are giving too many scaffolds:
1. They are not growing on their assessments.
You get their WIDA results back, and they seem to be plateauing. Or, they went backwards (eek!). Other than having a bad test day, which can totally happen and especially with teenagers, there's got to be a reason for the lack of growth. That's when your investigation and reflection should start. Was it only a couple of students? Was it in a specific domain? Was there something I didn't get to teach or didn't get to teach enough? Or, it could be that over-scaffolding is the issue. How much hand-holding did I do? How much did I let them struggle (in a healthy way, not a too hard way)? This also pertains to classroom assessments, so don't forget to look at these along the way too.
2. They can't do the "you do" portion of your lesson in the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model.
You do the "I do, We do, They do" and you get to the "You do" and they just can't do it. This could mean that you are adding in too many scaffolds leading up to the "you do". You may be scaffolding so much that when letting them fly on their own, their little metaphorical wings have been clipped. Sometimes you can even see that they won't be able to fly solo during the "they do" when they may be relying on their classmates too much.
This is where you ask yourself, "How much am I requiring them to struggle? How much are they using their current scaffolds as a crutch?" In my classroom with my high school beginners, it's especially easy for them to fall into the translation crutch. Yes, some may really need it. Yes, some may not be able to do the "you do" yet, and that's okay. But you know your students best, and you know what they should be able to do. Can they spend the first 5 minutes without a translation device? Try it!
The good news is that you can easily fix this problem if you happen to identify that over-scaffolding is what is causing low growth in your student(s). Make sure you are setting learning goals for them. For WIDA states, use the Can-Dos to identify what they can do, and then look to the next proficiency level to use as their goals. Start your year off using scaffolds at their level, and then slowly adjust (or quickly, depending on the student!) so that you begin using scaffolds for the next level. Then, sit back and watch how they do!
So, when you are ready to reflect, use this resource to help guide you. Are there any other things that help show you that over-scaffolding might be the reason for lack of growth? Comment below!
To learn more about strategies for incorporating language into your lessons, check out my course, My EL Mentor: Creating a Language-Rich Classroom! And if you are a high school teacher, consider joining my membership, My MLL Mentor, to discuss ideas like this with other high school ESL teachers!
I support middle and high school teachers through monthly lesson plans, coaching, and guest speaker offerings in our Secondary ESL Teacher Membership.