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Sentence stems and keyword scaffolds in science

When planning expositions and activities that support pupils’ needs, keep in mind that it is key for pupils to obtain a high success rate in the tasks that they attempt (Rosenshine 2012). For pupils who require additional support, ensuring success does not mean differentiating by providing less challenging tasks. Indeed it is a common misconception that differentiation is about personalising learning, when in fact it is a subtle process of giving feedback and providing effective scaffolds to support pupils in achieving common learning goals (Sherrington and Stafford 2019).

In ‘Principles of Instruction’, Rosenshine (2012) describes scaffolds as a temporary support used to assist learners that are gradually withdrawn as learners develop competence. In contrast to a view of differentiation that involves adapting expectations, scaffolding means that we can maintain the same high expectations for all pupils and support them to obtain success in the challenging tasks that we set. Pupils learn more effectively when they are required to think hard.

Depending on the activity, scaffolding might include:

  • Breaking lengthier tasks or concepts into smaller steps to manage cognitive load
  • Selecting an appropriate practice activity for each step
  • Using concrete resources to support understanding such as:
    • Adapted task resources, e.g. sentence stems, word banks, visual prompts and knowledge organisers
    • Technology to support pupils accessing tasks where there is a barrier, e.g. laptops, iPads and recording devices
  • Establishing clear roles for each individual in discussions and group work
  • Agreeing expectations or rules of talk during activities

Whether you’ll be using scaffolding for the first time or you’re reviewing its use in your teaching, take some time to reflect on what the teacher has done, how they’ve done it, what they might have done differently, and how this might influence your own practice.

As you watch this video of classroom practice, consider specifically how the teacher: 

  • Sets high expectations for the task
  • Provides key words and sentence stems 
  • Challenges pupils with additional tasks

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