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Supporting Learners in Where They Go Next in Their Learning: Back-End Scaffolding

teacher talking to the class

Scaffolding is an ongoing process of providing front-end, distributed, and back-end scaffolds.  Along with peer scaffolding, these are part of our larger model of scaffolding.

Source:  How Scaffolding Works, Corwin.

In this Corwin Connect blog, we take a quick look at back-end scaffolds but read on to find links to our other blogs in this scaffolding series.

What are back-end scaffolds?

Back-end scaffolds are those supports put into place after the learning experience has occurred.  As we conclude a specific learning experience or task, the evidence we gather about student learning or student progress towards the learning intentions and success criteria often call for actions that we should take moving forward in the learning progression.  For example, evidence may suggest that learners developed misconceptions or continue to make errors in their learning.  In some situations, these misconceptions and errors are prevalent across all students and require us to re-teach the content using different approaches.  In some situations, we can provide specific and constructive feedback that allows the learner to close the gap between where they are and where they are headed.  As we pointed out in the Corwin Connect blog on front-end scaffolds and distributed scaffolds, we can also use back-end scaffolds to scaffold up.  Back-end scaffolds are useful in helping students consolidate their understanding.  The surface learning that students have completed can be extended into deeper learning through intentional back-end scaffolds.

We want to highlight three specific back-end scaffolds that will keep learning moving forward even after the learning experience and task are over:

  • Feedback
  • Graphic organizers
  • Study skills

Feedback

The reality is that much feedback is given, but not all that feedback is received.  When it’s not received, it does little to support learning.  Perhaps the reason is that feedback is given prematurely in the learning process.  Note that we place feedback in the back-end scaffold section and not in the distributed scaffold section.  Of course, we can give feedback while our students are learning.  But feedback can also be used to address errors and misconceptions after the learning experience is over and the learning task complete.

We can provide specific and constructive feedback that allows the learner to close the gap between where they are and where they are headed.

Feedback provides information about how our learners are doing as they progress toward the learning intention and success criteria.  Remember, our model of scaffolding begins with mental models of expertise and goals.  Thus, the back-end scaffold of feedback, feedback that is designed to move learners closer to the mental model and individual goals, comes in at least three forms (Vrabie, 2021):

  1. Appreciationrecognizing and rewarding someone for great work. Appreciation connects and motivates people, and it’s vital since intrinsic motivation is one of the critical factors for high-performance.
  2. Coachinghelping someone expand their knowledge, skills, and capabilities. Coaching is also an opportunity to address feelings, which helps balance and strengthen relationships.
  3. Evaluation: assessing someone against a set of standards, aligning expectations and informing decision-making.

Notice that each of these can be useful in back-end scaffolding.  When we appreciate what our learners have already accomplished rather than only focusing on learning needs, we scaffold the motivation for them to try again even when they face a challenge.  When we coach, our back-end scaffolds provide specific examples and ideas that students can use to expand their current content knowledge, skills, and understandings.  And when we evaluate, we scaffold learners self-reflection, self-monitoring, and self-evaluation of their current performance with the learning intentions and success criteria.

Graphic Organizers as Back-end Scaffolds

Graphic organizers are visual and spatial displays that assist students in classifying abstract concepts in ways that highlight the concepts relationship to one another. They are used to help learners build schema, which is a cognitive framework for understanding and interpreting information. Naïve learners can incorrectly view knowledge as silos of unrelated facts, as when a science student is not able to see the relationship between the lesson on planetary movement and the previous one of planetary composition. Importantly, their intended use is to foster links between prior knowledge and new information (Ausubel, 1968).

Graphic organizers are different from an adjunct display that offers a pictorial representation of new information to be taught.  These are a form of front-end scaffolding in that they are intended to be used at the outset as a part of initial instruction. Providing a representational picture of a flowering plant makes a lot of sense when introducing the parts of a plant, the function of each of those parts, and how those parts help the plant to survive. Using an accompanying chart so that students can compare and contrast the specific parts of a plant and the processes they support makes sense when providing instruction about plants parts and processes.  Again, this pictorial display is very different than a graphic organizer.

Graphic organizers scaffold learning on the back-end when students must construct linkages about the relationships between the concepts they have just learned or encountered in the learning experience or task. For instance, a student-constructed graphic organizer comparing angiosperms and gymnosperms in terms of parts and processes, as well as examples of each, is a different task. It requires that the student link two major ideas—flowering versus non-flower plants—and further expand it to compare specific species of gymnosperms and angiosperms. There is significant thinking—not just copying—that the student must accomplish to sort out information, categorize and classify knowledge, and apply it as a conceptual framework to better understand plants and their processes.

In a text-based task, the use of a graphic organizer after an initial lesson or reading has been completed allows learners to sort out what they know and bring to light what they don’t know or are confused about. One meta-analysis on the use of graphic organizers after instruction was striking. When used after lessons, the effect size was 1.84 (Englert & Mariage, 1991).  When used generically during the lesson, the effect size is only .61.  Graphic organizers do not have to be tremendously complex, either.  The most important aspect of a graphic organizer is the alignment of the graphic organizer to the particular learning outcome.

Study Skills

Study skills are a constellation of competencies that allow students to acquire, record, organize, synthesize, remember, and use information (Hoover & Patton, 1995).  Study skills are important in learning content, and they are transferable, allowing students to apply what they have learned in new situations.  Study skills are classified as back-end scaffold because students apply those study skills after the initial learning has occurred.  The focus during initial learning should be on acquiring concepts and skills.  Rather, study skills should be used to solidify the learning on the back end to ensure that students move into deeper learning and transfer of learning.

Hattie (2009) suggested that study skills could be organized into three categories: cognitive, metacognitive, and affective.

  • Cognitive study skills usually involve a task, such as reviewing notes, creating digital or physical flashcards, and summarizing.
  • Metacognitive study skills describe self-management, such as planning, monitoring, and reflecting on studying. Metacognitive study skills also require that students learn when to use various cognitive strategies.
  • Affective study skills involve motivation, agency, and self-concept.

When using this back-end scaffold, we must ensure that our learners experience success when introducing study skills.  Cognitive and metacognitive study skills are important, but engagement, motivation, and self-concept are also important. That’s why it’s important to consider affective study skills and strive for a balance across all three types of study skills.

Conclusion

As we conclude this three-part Corwin Connect blog, we want to tie all three types of scaffolds together (i.e., front-end, distributed, and back-end).  Back-end scaffolds, the focus of this blog are actions that teachers can take after learning events have occurred.  However, back-end scaffolds are only part of our efforts to ensure all learners have equitable access and opportunity to the highest level of learning possible.  Together, front-end, distributed, and back-end scaffolds work together to provide all learners with the access and opportunity to the highest level of learning possible.  Yet, we should not over scaffold to promote learned helplessness or under scaffold to allow unproductive struggle.  Finding the right level of challenge is key in all aspects of scaffolding, along with recognizing that scaffolds must be necessary, customized, and temporary.

References

Ausubel, D. P. (1968). Educational psychology: A cognitive view. Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

Dixon, J. (2018).  Providing scaffolding just in case.  Retrieved from http://www.dnamath.com/blog-post/five-ways-we-undermine-efforts-to-increase-student-achievement-and-what-to-do-about-it-part-3-of-5/

Englert, C. S., & Mariage, T. V. (1991). Making students partners in the comprehension process: Organizing the reading POSSE. Learning Disability Quarterly, 14, 123-138.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge.

Hoover, J.J., & Patton, P.R. (1995). Teaching students with learning problems to use study skills: A teacher’s guide. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

Puntambekar, S., & Kolodner, J. L. (2005). Toward implementing distributed scaffolding: Helping students learn science from design. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42(2), 185–217.

Written by

Douglas Fisher, Ph.D., is Professor of Educational Leadership at San Diego State University and a teacher leader at Health Sciences High & Middle College. He is the recipient of an IRA Celebrate Literacy Award, NCTE’s Farmer Award for Excellence in Writing, as well as a Christa McAuliffe Award for Excellence in Teacher Education. He is also the author of PLC+, The PLC+ Playbook, This is Balanced Literacy, The Teacher Clarity Playbook, Grades K-12, Teaching Literacy in the Visible Learning Classroom for Grades K-5 and 6-12, Visible Learning for Mathematics, Grades K-12The Teacher Credibility and Collective Efficacy Playbook and several other Corwin books.  Nancy Frey, Ph.D., is Professor of Literacy in the Department of Educational Leadership at San Diego State University. The recipient of the 2008 Early Career Achievement Award from the National Reading Conference, she is also a teacher-leader at Health Sciences High & Middle College and a credentialed special educator, reading specialist, and administrator in California. She has been a prominent Corwin author, publishing numerous books including PLC+The PLC+ PlaybookThis is Balanced LiteracyThe Teacher Clarity Playbook, Grades K-12Engagement by DesignRigorous Reading, Texas EditionThe Teacher Credibility and Collective Efficacy Playbookand many more.  To view Doug and Nancy’s books and services, please visit Fisher and Frey Professional Learning.  Dr. John Almarode has worked with schools, classrooms, and teachers all over the world. John began his career teaching mathematics and science in Augusta County to a wide range of students. Since then, he has presented locally, nationally, and internationally on the application of the science of learning to the classroom, school, and home environments. He has worked with hundreds of school districts and thousands of teachers. In addition to his time in PreK – 12 schools and classrooms he is an Associate Professor in the Department of Early, Elementary, and Reading Education and the Director of the Content Teaching Academy. At James Madison University, he works with pre service teachers and actively pursues his research interests including the science of learning, the design and measurement of classroom environments that promote student engagement and learning. John and his colleagues have presented their work to the United States Congress, the United States Department of Education as well as the Office of Science and Technology Policy at The White House. John has authored multiple articles, reports, book chapters, and over a dozen books on effective teaching and learning in today’s schools and classrooms. However, what really sustains John and is his greatest accomplishment is his family. John lives in Waynsboro, Virginia with his wife Danielle, a fellow educator, their two children, Tessa and Jackson, and Labrador retrievers, Angel, Forest, and Bella. John is the author of Captivate, Activate, and Invigorate the Student Brain in Science and Math, Grades 6-12.

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