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Questions to foster high challenge and high support in teaching Questions to guide and focus teachers’ work

Target High challenge

• Are you holding the bar high? In what ways? • What academically challenging activity do you have planned for students this week?

Diagnostic tools

• What forms of baseline data can you collect from students to gauge their strengths and needs at the beginning of the school year? • What diagnostic tools might you develop or use to de- termine, at various times, the levels and kinds of support students need? • Can you identify individuals and groups of students who may be ready for different levels of challenge or who may need different kinds of support?

High support

• How are you helping students reach high challenges you have for them? • What scaffolds are you using and how are they working?

Teaching use of scaffolds

• How are you teaching students to use scaffolds meaning- fully? • Have you tried modeling for students how to use scaffolds to meet academic goals?

Academic language

• Have you found ways to “decode” academic language for students, beyond mere definitions? • Can you weave everyday, specialized, and reflexive lan- guage together to link high challenge with high support?

Fading scaffolds and transfer of responsibility

• How are you weaning students off of the scaffolds or supports you have had in place? • Which scaffolds have students outgrown? Do you see any evidence that they helped?

increasing responsibility and learner con- trol in a task (van de Pol et al., 2010). Monitoring the degree of continued

need for scaffolds is key. Teachers with whom I have worked design rubrics to as- sess use of scaffolds (Venn diagrams, dia- logue journals, thesis-and-support sheets), charting patterns to see how scaffolds func- tion through repeated use. With preservice teachers at UC Davis, I guide the use of short surveys and questionnaires that ask K-12 students to report which scaffolds are serving their learning and in what ways and

22 Leadership

which are not and why. Responses to these items prove invaluable for teachers to re- think and reshape practice. In some cases, what surfaces through

inquiry into students’ understanding is that academic language of larger goals and scaffolds are out of many students’ reach. One teacher, who interviewed four focal students about literary analysis tasks they were doing, found that the students (two ELs, two native English speakers) did not understand the academic language the teacher had been using repeatedly in print

and oral instruction. This unlocked for her the need to rethink ways to scaffold her use of academic language through more use of visual cues, graphic illustrations, modeling and repeated practice. Teachers in one project reported how

their scaffolding practices were guided and supported by school leaders and school- site professional development. Scaffolding became part of the school discourse and was central to several professional develop- ment sessions and department meetings, as teachers co-constructed and at times swapped scaffolding practices. In addition, school leaders asked teachers in both for- mal conferences and informal chats about current scaffolding practices to help meet students’ needs. One school leader offered to brainstorm scaffolds with new teachers and offered guidance on fading scaffolds as students moved through the grades.

Using questions to advance achievement Drawing from research, teaching exam-

ples and issues discussed above, the table at left shows questions that school leaders and professional developers might use to foster high challenge and high support in teach- ing. Such questions could shape activities, group work and discussions in professional development sessions and faculty meetings, and also can be used by school leaders in both formal conferences with teachers and informal chats. In these ways, such ques- tions can help foreground high challenge and high support as central to a school’s cul- ture and key to advancing academic learn- ing and achievement of culturally and lin- guistically diverse California students. n


Athanases, S.Z., Wahleithner, J.M. & Ben- nett, L.H. (2012). Learning to attend to culturally and linguistically diverse learn- ers through teacher inquiry in teacher edu- cation. Teachers College Record, 114(7).

Daloz, L. (1999). Mentor: Guiding the jour- ney of adult learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Dyson, A.H. (1999). “Transforming trans- fer: Unruly children, contrary texts, and the persistence of the pedagogical order.”

Continued on page 36

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