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Giving Thanks for 21st Century Scaffolds

By Christine Mason.  Remember the birth of the iPhone? MP3 Players?  Go back a few years. Do you remember when you logged onto desktop computers to surf the net? Has the evolution of these technologies enhanced your life? I, for one, am grateful for all my hand-helds.  I love being in touch. I love listening to music on one small 2 x 3 1/2 ” device rather digging through the stacks of over 500 CDs to find a tune.  Each of these is a time-saving scaffold for me.

As educators, we are used to considering how to scaffold instruction for students who need more support. As administrators, we also consider how teachers can integrate scaffolds to advance learning for students.  As researchers, we are interested in how much advantage is gained for various scaffolds, the “where” and “when” the scaffolds work best. As developers and inventors, we are looking at needs and considering how can we engineer to build a better mousetrap.

Today, we have scaffolds that allow digital text to be modified for students who read at various grade levels. Scaffolds aren’t only for schools. Some scaffolds are used by millions of people on a routine basis. Grammar and spell check facilitate writing; with excel spread sheets, calculations can be made in electronic documents. Services such as Amazon, Google, and Yelp! even “scaffold” our shopping. We check out consumer satisfaction and count stars before deciding on what to buy.

If you could wave a magic wand and produce scaffolds for future learning, what else would you want? Perhaps a system that would help students review their errors?  Perhaps a way to stimulate creativity?  Perhaps a way to encourage students to explore  options before making decisions?  Perhaps templates that will arrive at weighted decision-making?  Most of these systems are already available. It may, however, be a matter of increasing the power of a particular technology. Or perhaps, decreasing its cost to make it more readily available.  Or in some cases, it is a matter of tweaking the technology to be more appropriate for classroom instruction.

If you could design a classroom for the future, what scaffolds would you include? Would you borrow some that are being used in other online apps?  How would you go about the process?  Which experts would you call on?  If the decisions were totally yours, where would you begin?

As you consider these technological scaffolds, we suggest that you also examine other scaffolds, some of which are just as important and may be even more important. Here at CEI, as we look to the future, we are considering each of these — that is one of the reasons we have focused on neuroscience, heart centered learning, and rigor.  Each of these systems, at least as they are currently conceptualized, focuses on an aspect that we believe is critical for accelerating student growth and learning. So this holiday, as we give thanks for our iPads, tablets, and Smart boards, we are also giving thanks for the R&D that is helping many educational leaders to understand the value of the latest programs to help boost cognitive functioning, enhance compassion and self-esteem, and further individual goal setting and metacognition (or learning to learn).  In short, we see scaffolds, along with great teachers and principals, as the shortcuts for equalizing educational opportunities and building bridges for student success.


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