Sunday, August 14, 2016

Just Keep Swimming....

When talking about "Scaffolding" with educators, I used to reference a quick example of "It's like teaching a kid to swim. We often don't just throw them in the pool and expect success. We first give them arm floaties and wrap an inflatable duckie around their waist while walking them around a pool. Eventually the duckie comes off, later the arm floats, and finally, after the child shows signs of success... we let go. We support/scaffold the experience for them until they no longer need each of those scaffolds."

After 9 sessions of swim lessons this summer for my 8 month old, Owen, I now realize how bland that example of scaffolding was. While it demonstrates the point that supports are needed for short periods of time until other skills are developed, it does not demonstrate the complexity in design of the scaffolding. Owen's swim instructor had a few goals (i.e. standards) for her work this summer, one of which was:
  • Find the wall while moving unassisted through water. 
  • Understand the sensation of floating in water without support.
Wouldn't you know it... not a single floatie was placed on that kid's body either!!! Instead, she prioritized which skills were necessary to accomplish this goal early on in the summer, which would follow the early goals, and what could/should come last. She operated with performance benchmarks in mind for each of these phases too:
  • Benchmark 1 (early phase): Owen will reach for the wall while I move him through the water and grab it solidly with both hands.
  • Benchmark 2 (middle phase): Owen will catch his breath and keep his mouth closed when water is poured on his head.
  • Benchmark 3 (late phase): As I move Owen underwater towards the wall, he will emerge from the water reaching for the wall with both hands.
  • Final Product: Owen will find the wall while moving unassisted underwater.
Then, she narrowed down this standard to the targeted skills he would need to learn to accomplish each of those performance benchmarks (such as understanding patterns such as 1 - 2 - 3 meant something was about to happen, finding comfort in only water surrounding his body, etc.) With those specific skills identified, she then identified the activities she would use to teach him those skills, pre-thought out potential barriers that would keep him from progressing and had alternative methods ready in the case she would need them to support his learning. Obviously then, there was feedback for reflection and refinement at every phase of learning. It was UNIVERSAL DESIGN FOR LEARNING (UDL) at it's finest!

I will never again conduct a training session on "educational scaffolding"with the bland example of floatation. INSTEAD, I want educators thinking about these same elements which allow for guidance of necessary standards and skills while still remaining flexible to support students at every level of learning:

                                                                MIDDLE PHASE


How will you make learning accessible to YOUR students?! What performance benchmarks will be established to ensure they are on their way to accomplishing the end goal? What barriers could be keeping students from learning the targeted skills and how will you be prepared to overcome them!? 

With the appropriate plan in place, my little guy learned to find safety on his own in a matter of nine, 30min. swim lessons. I hope you find the time to plan and commit to helping your students find "safety" too.

Peace, love, and Michael Phelps wanna-be's

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