Being a pre-service teacher, I’ve only really thought of the practice of scaffolding instruction in a theoretical way. I have also thought more about scaffolding writing instruction than reading (I’m a writer at heart!), but I would think that it would look very similar in its application in the classroom. Scaffolding writing instruction is a crucial part of getting kids writing proficiantly, especially in genres they are not familiar with. It follows, then, that scaffolding content reading instruction would be a great way of introducing new kinds of reading.
I know the overwhelming feeling of approaching a complex text without help from my own experience as a student. In high school, I never struggled with reading. When I got to college, however, I remember myself as a freshman struggling through complex texts for history or philosophy classes. Before that, the only content area reading I was asked to do was straightforward textbooks, so I had never really learned to read anything except those and the novels we read in English class. Had this experience been more scaffolded, I surely would have taken more from the texts I read and had a much more positive attitude toward content-area reading.
That said, I do think that one can “over-scaffold” instruction. Students need to learn to navigate on their own to some extent. Especially when dealing with diverse learners, teachers need to be able to strike a delicate balance.
The videos and the textbook made me think about a lot of issues related to diverse students’ access to content area texts. I was particularly interested in the discussion of ESL students and the video of the Lee County teacher’s sheltered science classroom. As Kang writes, “Some information or concepts in textbooks may presuppose certain background knowledge that native English speakers may take for granted but that may be different or lacking in some ESL students” (Vacca, Vacca, Mraz 69). The sheltered classroom seemed to be a great way of teaching content knowledge and literacy in tandem, and I hope this is the direction that scaffolded ESL instruction is heading.
I particularly like the definition of a culturally responsive teacher as one who takes advantage of their students’ funds of knowledge. I agree that “instruction that is responsive to cultural differences in the classroom makes connections with students’ backgrounds, origins, and interest to teach the required standards” (Vacca, Vacca, Mraz 62). I liked the emphasis on the value of “unprofessional wisdom,” and I think integrating examples and concepts from real life and everyday experience makes content much easier to grasp. Something like having a mason come talk to the class is something that I can see doing in the future to engage a different kind of learner. Drawing on students’ funds of knowledge is crucial to their engagement and understanding of material.
I think though, that simply using multicultural texts does not make a culturally responsive teacher. I was disappointed with the text’s section about integrating multicultural books in the classroom, as I feel that the authors oversimplified the issue. They seemed to make overarching generalizations about diverse students’ literary preferences that were neither helpful nor supported with convincing evidence. For example, they write, “Many students in today’s ethnically diverse urban classrooms prefer books about young people living in challenging circumstances that may parallel their own experiences. These titles describe teens’ personal struggles with drugs, gangs, abuse, and similar issues” (Vacca, Vacca, Mraz 59). The fact that this assertion is not supported by concrete evidence worries me. As educators of a diverse population, we run the risk of stereotyping and overgeneralizing in the name of “getting to know our students’ cultures.” Being a culturally responsive teacher does not mean simply handing a Mexican child a book about a Mexican child, but it means getting to know our diverse students as individuals and using their funds of knowledge to construct the best educational experience we can.
The issue of dialect in the classroom is one that I’ve thought and read a considerable amount about. In an ideal world, value judgments would not be placed on dialects, but they are, and to ignore this fact would be to do our students a disservice. I do agree with Delpit to some extent in that teachers need to respect and recognize the strengths of nondominent discourses (Gee), and I do think they can have a place in the classroom, but I think the key is explicit discussion. Talking to students about the variations in dialects and discussing the contexts in which dialects are best used is crucial. Doing this well would lead to the respectful recognition of nondominent dialects along with an understanding that different speech patterns, in today’s flawed society, are best used in specific contexts. RCA2011