Author Archive

Bicycle Riding and Scaffolding Schema

April 2, 2011

I clearly remember learning how to ride a two-wheeler. I was in first grade and Mr. Haberstroh, my friend Terry’s father, took it upon himself to teach me.

Bike, by Jana Bouc

by Jana Bouc

The first thing he did was remove the training wheels. As I climbed back up on my transformed bike, my heart banged against my chest, both in fear of falling and the promise of freedom. Mr. Haberstroh assured me he would keep one hand on the handlebars and another behind me on the seat. Up and down the street I pedaled with Mr. Haberstroh running alongside, both hands on board. When I was balanced and confident, he announced the next step: to ride with his support but only from behind the seat.

Again I pedaled up and down the street, a little wobbly at first, but gradually becoming more and more balanced. I looked to my right and saw that Mr. Haberstroh was simply running beside me.

I kept practicing, and Mr. Haberstroh stayed by my side. Then I suddenly noticed that he was gone. I stopped, turned around, and saw him about six row houses back. He stood watching me with crossed arms resting on his chest. I greeted his proud smile with a smile of my own. For the remainder of the day, Terry and I rode our bikes all around the neighborhood in celebration of my newly earned independence.

Many of you probably have similar stories of learning to ride a two-wheeler. You can probably recall the gradual release of support until you were finally pedaling on your own. This same process can be applied to our instruction. When introducing a new concept or new skill, we can scaffold the learning so that eventually students become increasingly more independent.

During this past school year, the secondary social studies teachers in our district came together for a follow-up day of Reading Apprenticeship professional development. Our focus was on scaffolding and schema-building strategies, and our goal was to learn how these strategies prepare students to navigate and make sense of challenging text on any given topic.

Using the topic of New York City tenement life at the turn of the twentieth century, we explored a range of primary and secondary sources, being metacognitive about how we were building schema and how such schema-building could scaffold our students’ understanding of content topics.

We learned how to utilize digital images, photographs, and digital media to build background knowledge. For example, we viewed a five-minute scene from the movie Gangs of New York and recorded what we noticed about housing. From there partners viewed digital photographs of tenement living taken by Jacob Riis during the late 1800’s, and we recorded more observations.

All the while, we discussed what we noticed, what it made us think about, and what predictions we might have about life during that time. These observations served to engage our brains, jump-start our thinking about tenement living, and help build schema for reading about the living conditions in New York City during that time period.

Research tells us that we all learn best when new knowledge can be applied to that which we already know. By tapping into what our students already know, we increase the opportunity for a greater number of them to actively participate. Taking the time to build students’ schema sets them up to be successful. Success, we know, is extremely motivating — especially for those who may need a hand on the handle bars as well as the seat!

Blog Contributor, Sue Kinney

Sue Kinney

Sue Kinney

Sue Kinney is the Assistant to the Superintendent for Staff Development and Student Intervention in the Boyertown (PA) Area School District.

She works with teacher leaders and literacy coaches to provide ongoing professional learning for teachers K-12. She also leads Response to Intervention implementation for her district.


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