In the first lesson, you will have a go in a car park. The driving instructor does not scaffold your learning after this first lesson. Instead, she takes you directly to the road, and waits for you to make a mistake. Then she gives you exactly the same situation again, and gets you to have another go., you’ve stalled. You know this is because of poor clutch control. She has spotted that actually you need to rev harder as you ease off the clutch. She pedals her hands to demonstrate the action of your feet, and you go again.
In class we are much more likely to scaffold, making learning easier, but actually slowing progress. If we break it down in to small enough steps, our students always make progress. But the steps are so small they create the illusion of progress. With apologies to Zeno and his paradoxes, this is arranging learning so that the arrow can never hit its mark. Each scaffolded step stops the arrow (the student) reaching its target (ok, let’s call it a target in school too), so that the arrow can never reach its mark. (Because first it must travel half way, then half way between that point and the target, then half way between that new point and the target – you get the idea).
After all, you’d get rid of an instructor who drove you to a car park each time you stalled, so you could practise away from real traffic. But scaffolding does that all the time! We keep taking our students back to the car park.
Why? Because it creates the illusion of progress. It says we are responding to the individual. But, it is so obviously not the best to learn to drive.
What About Cognitive Load?
The driving instructor asks you to correct your mistake in a real-life situation. Initially, this is very difficult, as you have to think about more than one thing at the same time. But this because your driving knowledge is connected. You change gear while checking your mirror, while steering, while checking that pedestrians are not walking out in front of you.
In the same way, your students need to apply that bit of knowledge while paragraphing, while thinking about the right subject terminology, while trying to sequence their ideas in the right order.
The load here is not therefore about learning lots and lots of new stuff, but making better connections with what you already know, and rehearsing these.
Driving Instructors Keep Showing You the 100% Answer and Demanding You Try Your Best
Rather than differentiate by helping you access the curriculum (oh, we’ll just have lessons at midnight when there are so few cars on the road), your driving instructor takes you out on the real thing all the time, every lesson! The only time she deviates from this is when teaching a totally new skill – hill starts, parallel parking etc.
Most of your time is spent with the 100% model. It should be the same in your classroom.
How to Model 100% in Class
- Every time students write, one of them should type at the computer connected to your board. Then you will be able to reveal it to teach from. Any mistakes will be typical for your class, and instantly useful. Likewise, any success you can make explicit, so students can improve their own. They will see what success looks like too.
- You all have a smart phone or tablet. Photograph the students’ work and email it to yourself (unless you have a quicker system). It can be displayed in 30 seconds for you to teach from. This is vital in a practical subject where students aren’t writing. Choosing examples of excellence and of mistakes allows your teaching to be relevant. Always, each and every lesson.
- Quiz students on the knowledge they should have learned with a multiple choice. Ideally, do this at the beginning of the lesson, prior to teaching, and then at the end, or at the beginning of the next lesson. The driving instructor does this all the time, every time you come across a street sign, or road marking.
- Photograph or type up examples that have achieved brilliantly in past exams. Do the same with examples containing typical errors. Do the same with homework or classwork. Show, show, and show again. Be explicit, and students will keep learning from the model.
The fifth way they differentiate is very radical for a school – look out for my blog post on teaching to the test to find out more.