It was my pleasure to connect with Deb Franciosi and Anna Deese of Project CRISS at the IRC Conference for dinner Thursday night. I've been conducting trainings for and embracing the Principles and Philosophies of Project CRISS since 2005, and although the emphasis on CRISS at the middle level seems to have waned in my district, my faith in the philosophy has not.
The next morning I had to choose between Anna and Deb's sessions because they both had presentations planned at the exact same time on Friday. I had seen Anna present the year before, so she encouraged me to attend Deb's session this year, and I'm very glad I did!
Franciosi's session focused on the idea of scaffolding. According to the Glossary of Educational Reform by the Great Schools Partnership, scaffolding is "a variety of instructional techniques used to move students progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in the learning process. The term itself offers the relevant descriptive metaphor: teachers provide successive levels of temporary support that help students reach higher levels of comprehension and skill acquisition that they would not be able to achieve without assistance."
To start out her session, Franciosi went through the CRISS frameworks for teaching and learning, which is really a fancy name for a plan for instruction. She called the framework "PPER" (pronounced peeper). The acronym stands for Plan, Prepare, Engage/Transform, and Reflect. Nothing earth-shattering here, but the focus of the scaffolding happens during the planning and preparation stage.
One target of my coaching this year has been the area of planning. I never begin a collaborative project without first discussing the goals of the project and what outcomes are expected. It's a tricky situation when I begin work with a teacher, only to discover that he/she is unclear on the final assessment for the unit. What scares me even more is when the final assessment is created by somebody else and the teacher with whom I'm working has never seen it. To me, its not enough to know what the objectives are for the unit. The assessment is written with the idea that the skills tested are expected to be mastered. If the assessment is based upon anything other than those goals and the teacher hasn't seen the assessment, the students are immediately set up to fail. Period. Franciosi's first P in PPER is Plan. Plan beginning with your goals, how you will assess, and what materials you will need to begin and engage your students.
Prepare is the second P in PPER. To prepare oneself to engage students in content means to consider the learner and the content to be presented. We have already determined the end-product and the goals of the lesson, but without properly assessing our learners, we cripple ourselves as educators. What kind of background knowledge will our kiddos need for us to scaffold properly? Who are our learners? What are their strengths and learning preferences? Are we standing in front of an entire class of struggling readers or a group of gifted kiddos? Does our audience speak English? All of them? How much do they already know about the topic? Do they know anything that I can easily connect to the topic? What about the content? What resources are readily available to me? Are the resources easily accessible for my kiddos? In other words, can they easily glean information from the resources or will they need support to do so? Without asking every single one of the questions above, and possibly more, we leave out part of the preparation process and therefore risk losing our audience before we even begin.
Scaffolding happens as a result of preparation. Once you know your learners and your content, you prepare to engage them, which may require some pre-teaching before actually teaching. Earlier this year I worked with a science teacher on a close reading activity on global warming. Although we chose to introduce the strategy and practice it with easily accessible text, in hindsight, we could have (and probably should have) used sections from the actual text book to work through the strategy.
One idea that Cris Tovani describes in her book Do I Really Have to Teach Reading? is the idea of text-sets. The reason we chose the easily accessible text was because we weren't certain students would have enough background knowledge to pull-off a good close read of the text book itself. If we had considered the piece of text that we did use as more of a part of a text-set, we could have had the students read it first with the essential question in mind and then dive into the science text book to conduct a close read on sections of the text. We could have given students time in class to explore several different texts, in fact, so that we could build up their current knowledge before we hit them with the really tough stuff. This would have given the students an opportunity to build some background knowledge and maybe allow them to formulate some questions before tackling the more challenging text from the book. It would have allowed them to feel challenged but successful. Hindsight is always 20/20.
Another point that Franciosi made during her presentation was that the initial material that should be presented to students should not only be accessible but relevant. In other words, find material that relates somehow to students' lives. I read this recently, and I wish I could remember where . . . wherever it was, I recall the speaker adamantly telling the audience that no matter what the content, make it relevant! Somehow find a way to connect it to students' lives. If it is history, start with how the outcome impacts us today or parallel the situation with a current day situation. Science? Health? Music? Get creative and make it fit. Without relevance, you immediately lose a large percentage of your students without even beginning.
The second part of Franciosi's session was filled with an example lesson, using the framework that she introduced at the beginning. She went into much detail about all steps in the framework, but what I brought from the session was the emphasis on scaffolding, the research behind it, the implications for using it, and how it applies to good planning.
Good, solid planning equals a well-managed classroom where students know the goals and the plan to get there. Knowing your goals, your plan, your students, and your resources creates an environment where students may be less self-conscious about trying new things and stepping out of their comfort zone. Once the ice is broken, students begin to feel more independent in their learning, and that is the whole premise of the Principles and Philosophy of Project CRISS. CReating Independence through Student-owned Strategies.