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Research and Practice Summary

This reading will help you understand some of the theory behind this week’s topic. We will start by introducing some of the key concepts (these are in bold). You will also see some suggestions of how to put these concepts into practice. When using these concepts in your own practice you will need to take account of your pupils’ characteristics, the context of your classroom and the nature of the material that you are teaching.

Modelling and scaffolding for structured writing in a pupil referral unit

Helen wants her small group of Key Stage 3 pupils to write some paragraphs on ‘What does it mean to be British?’

She knows that her pupils have a range of learning needs, they are largely disinclined to work independently and they are prone to give up before a task is finished.

How might Helen scaffold her pupils’ learning, while also building their independence, so that they are able to write their paragraphs on British values?

Modelling is an instructional strategy in which the teacher demonstrates a new concept or approach to learning, and pupils learn by observing. It describes the process of learning or acquiring new information, skills, or behaviour through observation, rather than through direct experience or trial-and-error efforts. Modelling involves using a new method or concept as part of the instruction process, so that pupils can hear or see what you intend them to do. It helps them to understand more clearly how to solve a problem or construct a sentence, for example, by seeing it being done. It also enables them to practise more effectively, and therefore encode and consolidate the new learning in the long-term memory. Examples of modelling include written, visual or video guides, scaffolding, and worked examples.

For Helen, what would be useful for her to model for her pupils, and when should she do it?

Worked examples involve pupils studying the solved ‘problem’, rather than solving the problem themselves. They are highly effective because they reduce cognitive load, allowing pupils to focus on one step of a problem at a time without ‘getting lost’ in the problem. The aim is for the pupils to gain as close an understanding as possible of what their teacher sees as a high-quality model.

To help you use worked examples to aid your pupils’ progress, you should:

  • provide your pupils with a question or problem, alongside a detailed explanation of the solution (e.g. showing them one you made earlier, or what a good one looks like)
  • guide them through the process of following the worked example (e.g. highlighting the criteria that made it successful, and how you achieved them)
  • this provides the pupils with a guide for how to solve other, similar problems ensure that the range of tasks available to pupils with lower and higher prior attainment are appropriately pitched, to ensure that all pupils are able to push themselves to meet their ‘challenge target’ in each lesson

Questions to consider

Would you recommend that Helen use a worked example for her class?


Why not?

Scaffolding refers to a variety of instructional techniques used to move pupils progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, toward greater independence in their learning. It describes a system of prompts or supports that pupils can use at the beginning of a learning cycle, which are gradually withdrawn as they become more confident.

To help your pupils make better progress through scaffolding, you should:

  • avoid overwhelming their working memory (e.g. by breaking new content down and reframing questions)
  • gradually reduce the amount of scaffolding that is given, as they become more confident*
  • give opportunities to repeat (rehearse), as this will build confidence and independence. (You can allow them to practise with and without the scaffolds)

*A model of how to withdraw prompts and support gradually is shown here:

Checking understanding and adapting teaching

A two-way arrow which shows that we go back and forth through exposition, shared, guided and independent practice in order to check our understanding and adapt our teaching.
Exposition Shared practice Guided practice Independent practice
Teacher models, explains, demonstrates, thinks aloud Explicit teaching with teacher and pupils practising together Pupils practise with guidance and support from the teacher Pupils practise on their own

Increasing pupil responsibility

An arrow pointing to the right which shows that through the process of exposition, shared, guided and independent practice there will be an increase in student responsibility.

It is useful to recognise that, although many language skills are generic, they may also be specific to individual subjects. This becomes increasingly important as pupils get older and experience a wider set of subject-specific literacy demands, the academic language and conventions of different subjects. For example, pupils in one subject (say, science) may read a text purely for information, whereas in history or English they might need to be aware of the author’s interpretation.

To help your pupils understand the discipline-specific aspects of literacy in your subject, you should:

  • ask yourself what is unique about your discipline, in terms of reading, writing, speaking or listening – for example, does ‘writing a report’ mean the same thing to you as it does to a teacher of another discipline?
  • with colleagues, compile lists of words or phrases which are used atypically in your discipline, or which are foundational to your discipline (good quality textbooks are good places to look)

Extensive practice is also important, and gradually reducing the amount of support and scaffolding that is given will enable pupils to become more confident and independent. It can also allow pupils to master and build up individual aspects of learning without having to do everything at once.

What did Helen do? In her own words:

"I use scaffolding techniques a lot, especially if I want a considered piece of writing completed. With one group, I was looking at British values: ‘What does it mean to be British?’

"My aim was to achieve a few paragraphs on this. My group was not particularly keen on writing. I needed them to build up their ideas slowly before elaborating, otherwise it was quite possible I would get a refusal by some to do the work.

"We started off with a ‘hook’, a muddled cartoon picture showing lots of ‘British’ things. Pupils had to find and name as many as they could – my pupils love a bit of challenge and competition, so this type of activity often goes down well.

"Once completed, the pupils were given blank cards to identify any possible groupings and write them down (e.g. food), then adding actual examples. All the time this was going on, my aim was to question the pupils about their understanding of the topics we were looking at.

"Once the pupils had the information they had obtained, I revealed to them that I am Irish. I showed them (in different colours) one sentence I had already written about ‘What it means to be Irish’, one sentence about how I could personally relate to this topic, and one sentence about what it showed about Ireland.

"All my pupils were ready then to write their own sentences. I could see them looking at the board at my sentences, trying to work out what they would need to change. Some pupils stopped there, but one pupil who had been vocal in discussion added her own introduction and (with my prompting) a conclusion paragraph. This activity reflected a growing understanding of the topic, plus a move towards more independent learning by one pupil."

Helen was aware that, before her pupils could write, they would need help with generating ideas to write about. This is where she used the muddled cartoon and the blank cards, which helped her pupils to gather ideas into categories – which would then become paragraphs.

This was her main scaffolding technique. It suggested the structure that her pupils should follow, but allowed them freedom to select independently. She then modelled with a worked example, one which was different – but sufficiently similar – to the final product she wanted from the class. One of her pupils was able to move to the next stage without any explicit modelling.