Scaffolding

Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (September 20 , 2014)


One thing that has always fascinated me is bamboo scaffolding in Hong Kong. I think they look like works of art and I marvel at how bamboos can be crissed and crossed, bound and tied, to make scaffolding for skyscrapers in Hong Kong. These temporarily constructed works of art enable workers to climb into the skies to build, paint and reconstruct buildings.


As I sit in my office, I look out onto a building which just had scaffolding go up around it. I watched as the scaffolding got constructed at its base level, and as the days went by, each level got added above it and the thirty storey building is now wrapped in scaffolding, enabling the workers to get to the top.


In education, there is also something called scaffolding but it’s of another sort. In the same way that scaffolding is added as layers, teaching can be done in layers, in order to help the learner best understand the step-by-step process. So for example, if a person is learning the piano, he first has to learn how to recognise notes, then play the scales, simple tunes before attempting more complicated pieces. Or take English for example: one has to learn how to read the alphabet and short words before constructing sentences and paragraphs. Scaffolding breaks things down into steps for the learner, enabling him to slowly acquire the skills and build on them. Scaffolding of teaching enables the learner to slowly build more skills and ultimately to one day be ‘free standing’, able to independently do the tasks without assistance.


In the fast paced world of Hong Kong, we sometimes expect instantaneous things. We want everything done immediately and if not immediately, then at least super efficiently. In some places in the world, it can apparently take up to 6 years to build a high rise building. In Hong Kong, we’re used to having buildings sprout up within a year or two. Sometimes we expect that of children too. We expect that they learn quickly, reach the height of achievement overnight and soar in all that they do. But we forget that every building required levels of scaffolding to be built before the building could be erected and children require layers of learning before they can soar.


Especially at the start of the new school year when children are faced with different challenges in their time of transition, either academically, socially or emotionally, it’s important that we help them learn by scaffolding for them.


For example, if learning addition of double digits is challenging, then you could scaffold as follows:


Add single digits => add one single digit to a double digit => use physical objects to do the addition of double digit items => do addition of double digits using pen and paper => do mental addition


Or if making friends is challenging, then scaffolding could look like this:


Find a person to sit next to in class => say hello and ask questions to find common interests => bring something into school the next day that relates to the interest to share => ask to do something together during break time that interests your new friend


I remember one instance when a boy came into my class crying one day. He had just been told off by his mother for not being independent enough and not being able to use chopsticks on his own. He felt defeated, ashamed and hopeless. So we went into my office and started a ‘scaffolded’ lesson in chopstick usage. He first learnt how to hold chopsticks properly by learning how to grip the two sticks with his fingers, then started picking up larger objects that were easy to grip, then moved onto smaller objects that required more focus and muscle strength, then at the end, he started picking up marbles with his chopsticks! He went from not being able to hold chopsticks properly to mastering the arts of picking up slippery marbles! He was able to do it independently at the end, having been giving scaffolded steps.


We want to see our children succeed and children themselves desire desperately to succeed but success usually comes because we as parents and educators have clearly provided scaffolding for them to learn. We are challenged to break abstract or challenging learning experiences into smaller, step-by-step ones so that children learn well. After all, buildings aren’t built in a day and nor are children. Let’s take the time to scaffold and help them grow tall, strong, steady and upright.



#Uniqueness #scaffolding #growing #understanding #step_by_step #skills #learning #development #independence #success

「搭棚式」學習法


我一直對香港用竹搭棚的建築技巧很感興趣。我認為竹棚本身就是一種藝術,每每想到建築工人如何捆綁、固定竹子來搭建一幢幢摩天大廈,都讓我驚歎不已。這些臨時性質的藝術作品是工人高空工作的平台,方便他們進行興建或維修,又或是給建築物塗上油漆。從我辦公室望向窗外,可以見到其中一座建築物的外牆搭滿竹棚。隨著日子一天天過去,我看著工人將竹棚從地基起一層層向上搭建起來,到現在三十層高的大樓已經被「包裹」在竹架內,好讓他們在高空工作。


在教育方面也有所謂的搭棚一說,但當然它跟上述的建築技巧是截然不同的兩回事。這兩種搭棚的相同之處是都有層層疊升的過程,「搭棚式」的學習就是指以一步一步的教導方式來幫助學生理解。以學習鋼琴為例,同學首先要學會看樂譜,從較簡單的曲調、旋律練習,然後再嘗試更複雜的作品。又以學習英文為例,同學首先要從基本字母、簡單的詞彙開始學起,再進一步學習如何寫句子段落。換言之,「搭棚式」的學習法是將整個學習過程分拆成一個個步驟,幫助同學逐漸掌握和建立技巧,讓他們最終有天能夠自主、獨立地完成任務。


香港的生活節奏急速,我們總期望事情能即時辦妥,就算不能馬上完成,也至少要以超高效率來進行。當某些國家可以花上六年時間來興建摩天大廈,在香港我們卻要求建築物在一兩年之內就要完工。有時候,我們會以同樣的標準去要求孩子──我們期望他們可以一蹴而就,一夜間就能掌握所有本領。我們忘記了一幢建築物必須有層疊的棚架作支撐方可建成,同樣孩子的學習也需要一步步的過程才能鞏固知識。特別是在新學年之初,孩子在這段過渡時期面臨著各種學習、社交以至情感上的挑戰,因此特別需要我們「搭棚」來引導他們學習。


舉例來說,如果孩子在學習兩位數加法上感到困難,不妨考慮以下由淺入深的「搭棚」方法:掌握單位數加法 => 學習單位數加雙位數的運算 => 利用實物來進行雙位數加法 => 以紙筆進行雙位數加法 => 嘗試練習雙位數加法的心算。


又或者,如果孩子在交朋友上有點障礙,那麼可以用這樣的方法來為友誼「搭棚」:坐在班中其中一位同學身邊 => 主動打招呼和傾談 => 嘗試找出大家的共同興趣 => 翌日把大家都感興趣的東西帶到學校分享 => 邀請這位新朋友在小息時一起做些有趣的事。


猶記得有天一位小男孩哭著來學校上課,並告訴我媽媽責備他不夠獨立、怎樣也學不懂用筷子。他覺得自己很失敗,感到羞愧、絕望。於是我請他到我的辦公室,一步步地教導他用筷子。他首先學會了如何以正確的手勢握著筷子,然後從體積較大的物件開始練習。漸漸地他的集中力與肌肉的運用更好了,可以用筷子夾起體積較細的物件。最後,他甚至可以用筷子夾起一顆顆波子!他從不懂得用筷子到現在成為「筷子專家」,這完全是「搭棚式」學習法的成效。


我們都希望看到孩子成功,而孩子自己也渴望成功,但成功其實往往需要我們為他們提供「棚架」作良好穩健的基礎。作為教育工作者和家長,我們面臨的挑戰是如何將抽象或具有一定難度的知識分割成一層層「棚架」,讓孩子偱序漸進地學習。我們都希望看到孩子們茁壯成長,成為堅強、正直的人,然而成長可不會一夜成真,我們要用耐性為孩子「搭棚建基」,他們他日才能展翅高飛!

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