On the Importance of Scaffolding Lessons


From Chapter 9 – Ten Core Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing

This chapter, officially called “The Wizard of Oz Would Have Been a Lousy Writing Teacher,” is where I found grounded wisdom about what works in the adolescent classroom.   Kelly Gallagher’s book is called Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling and Mentoring and most of the chapters have descriptions of activities to use with writing instruction.

In this chapter, he includes the core beliefs that drive his approach.   These are worth multiple blog entries – so I may return to these again – but for today I want to write about Core Belief 2: Teachers Should Scaffold Lessons That Help Stretch Young Writers. 

“Teaching a student to write is like teaching a student to play basketball,”  Gallagher writes on page 226.

Yes – I’ve called myself a coach for years.

More from page 226 (the extended metaphor is worth it ) :  “The student needs to see how ‘real’ players dribble, pass, shoot, set screens, defend, rebound, and move their feet. Coaches who stand on the sideline and scream, ‘Pass the ball better!’ are coaches who are not really helping their players develop.  Coaches who stop the practice, gather the players around, and demonstrate how, when passing, the ball should come off the fingertips are coaches who help their players.”

How is this done?   I think it might be easier in basketball.   Think how many types of “passing” different students are trying to do when working on a single writing assignment.     I find I do a lot of individual coaching – the “gathering around” doesn’t work as well.  Or maybe I’m simply not the performer Gallagher is.  And I do mean “performer” … the superTeachers who write books describe activities in their classrooms that leave me drained simply reading about them.

I do think, however, that demonstrating and allowing time for practice are necessary to writing instruction.   As Gallagher writes, “When we adopt an ‘I go, then you go’ approach to teaching writing, we take our young writers through zones of development.”

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