Scaffolding for Student Learning
An activity at the Confirmation/Verification level of inquiry is most useful when teachers pre-assess students' prior knowledge and/or have misconceptions about a topic or concept. This approach often follows the question, "How do we know...?" The other three levels of inquiry progress from teacher-directed to student-directed study. When students learn about a topic or concept for the first time, using a more structured approach to exploring the material is likely the most effective. As students master the basic understandings, the opportunity to design their investigations or explore other aspects of the topic or concept will allow them to gain a deeper overall grasp of the material. Think of the runner who spends hours each week working with a coach, usually in very structured ways, to master the the sport - getting out of the blocks, pacing, stride, endurance, hurdles, crossing the finish line - as well as combining those skills for fluid performance. But in competition, the runner applies that acquired knowledge to maximize his performance in relation to various challenges - weather conditions, lane on the track, competitors. Through each practice and competition the athlete reaches new levels of proficiency. As students engage in inquiry based strategies, teachers must ensure that all students rise to new challenges.
How can teachers ensure all students will be successful as they encounter new experiences? A variety of materials, support, and management mechanisms should be used to provide instruction that is responsive to students' interests, degrees of readiness and learner profiles. Teachers must provide opportunities for students to demonstrate their ability to produce high-quality work involving authentic issues, problems, and essential questions related to units of study. The content, processes, and products addressed in a unit should vary in order to attend to the standards and support the students. Likewise, teachers must thoughtfully manage the complexity and pace of tasks and activities to ensure instruction is targeted to student needs. Multifaceted assessment is the cornerstone to differentiation. Knowing a student's interests, prior knowledge, ability, and academic, cultural and social background allows the teacher to construct or negotiate specific opportunities to meet the individual needs of the student.