Building a Striving Scaffold

While helping an elementary grade level order classroom library books recently, I came across sets of books labeled: “Books for Striving Readers”.  Reading the fine print, these were books for students who needed a bit of scaffolding to reach for the on-grade-level texts. These particular books were high-interest, but written at a slightly lower level, which allowed students to build their skills toward fluently reading grade level texts.  This idea of a “striving scaffold” got me thinking about the work we are doing in schools around the world.

Why?

Because, schools who strive, thrive.

While schools where striving turns to struggling end up not only not reaching the level they’d hoped, they might find there is the dreaded “summer slide” in buy-in, skill development, and momentum. (Worst case- you are further behind where you started.)

As the end of the year push begins, it isn’t hard to feel people wobble. Whether it is exhaustion from a long first year, a sense that a particular class or grade level is ready to move forward, or simply the need to close up and celebrate the end of this year’s initiatives and goals, people are in many ways done.

As administrators though, we have to keep looking forward. We must continue to plan and to build for next steps; but not blindly and not without real consideration for the path we are on, always asking: Is this the right thing to do, right now?

This is the first step in building a striving scaffold, assessing where we are against where we need to go and analyzing whether or not the path/plan initially created is the right one to take now. (Now that we know more, now that things have changed, now– right now- at this particular point in the year.)

From there, we need to plan for steps in the process which take us from here to there, and lay it out in enough detail that we can really see what it is we need to do. Just like striving readers, striving schools will sweat the small stuff.

A striving reader, has a planned pace, has clearly identified needs, is assessed frequently to make sure he is still in the right text and is guided and monitored. His scaffold is manageable. Do this, then this- first one step than the other. We don’t hand over The Old Man and the Sea and say… “You can do it, good luck!”

Striving schools too will reach for what they don’t currently have, by making sure to push, pull, train, support, communicate and direct toward that same goal: that sweet-spot between something new and challenging to do which is a success, and something doable enough to allow the wheels on the bus (day-to-day teaching and learning) to keep turning.

However when does striving become struggling?

For the reader (like the school), it is when there is too much to do and the path can’t be clearly seen. (Sure steps can be taken two-by-two, but then there might be another scaffold in place like a handrail to help guide and support the climb.)

Striving schools:

  • Plan for and show teachers what the path is – this is where we are we going and why. 
  • What the terrain looks like – this part is going to be bumpy, this part will be smooth.
  • What scaffolds will be there to support the journey – here is where there will be training; here is where there will be help.

Striving is working toward an attainable goal, which is clear enough to stretch out toward. It feels good, like that perfect run or set of laps in the pool.

Struggling is being buried in and feeling bad about the efforts you are making. You can’t see how to get there and therefore, how you could possibly be successful. Struggling is lifting weighs, which are too heavy and hurt your back or running sprint after sprint and getting that stich in your side.

Striving makes you want to do more. Struggling makes you want to quit.

We aim to help every reader strive and thrive with scaffolds to assist. Can we do the same for our schools?

About Jen Munnerlyn

Jen Munnerlyn is the Elementary Principal at the American School of Warsaw. Her international experience began back in 1980 when her parents first started teaching overseas. Jen blogs about her own experiences as a Third Culture Kid, the adventures of being the mother of a TCK, and about elementary education in an international school setting. Her picture book The Adventure Begins, about the first day at an international school, is a favorite among adults and students abroad.
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