Scaffolding is a brain based, research backed technique that truly makes a difference in the efficiency of learning!
Our brains work best when they can create a “network” of neuropathways—neural connections weaving in and around other neural connections. As much as I think the analogy of the brain as a computer is belittling to the intricacies of what makes up human intelligence, I have to admit there are many similarities. Our brains store information kind of like the folders on our desktops. It’s easiest for us to remember newly acquired information if there is already a “folder” with some kind of similar knowledge stored in it. For example, when an infant is first learning about what “dog” means, there may be a folder already created in their minds titled “that weird thing with lots of hair I saw at the neighbor’s house.” Then, every time she comes in contact with something four legged and furry, she will take this folder out, compare it to the notes already on file and either add more information or create a new folder or maybe even a couple of subfolders titled “weird furry things that say woof” and “weird furry things that say meow.” Essentially, this is scaffolding; building new knowledge on top of already acquired knowledge. Just as scaffolding makes building a house with many floors easier, educational scaffolding makes deep understanding of a subject easier.
With this in mind, I have written these guides around a certain topic that would ordinarily be intriguing to those of the preschool set. Animals, things that go, their bodies…these are usually the things in their world of which they immediately take notice. So we can capitalize on this pioneering spirit. A few decades ago this technique was called a “thematic unit.” Today, many schools are calling this “experiential learning.” Whatever the label, when we are able to connect something to any aspect that we’ve already learned…it kind of acts like neuronal glue!
One of the ways teachers routinely help students make these connections is -usually while reading a book- we ask them to think of something that relates the text to themselves, the text to another piece of text, or the text to the world. This technique will work well in any situation, not just while reading. For example, you and your three year old are at the zoo and they see a zebra for the first time. You might pose the following questions: Whoa! That animal has black and white stripes! Have you ever seen an animal like that before? (text to self) I remember one time we read a story about a zebra wearing pajamas. Do you remember that story? (text to text) My favorite part of that story was when the zebra ______. What was your favorite part? (text to self) Do you think that zebra would wear pajamas? (text to world) The idea here is to help your child make connections – to create a new folder that is connected to as many other folders as possible – so that if one folder accidentally gets “deleted” he’ll have the information stored somewhere else!