Originally uploaded by Juan R. Martos
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we get students to complete tasks.
Specifically I’ve been thinking about it in an IT context, but it applies to English and potentially Art, Music, Drama and other creative subjects as well.
If I want to create a spreadsheet model I’ll fire up Excel (other spreadsheet packages are available) and start fleshing out a suitable layout. But if I want students to do this they often struggle. “I don’t know where to start”, “What do I do first?” and other comments will appear. The students often lack the ability that I seem to have – to start putting things down and come up with a suitable layout. Equally, if I want the students to write a letter to a client in response to a brief, they’ll say “How do I start it?” – even if we’ve done a load of prep work.
Sometimes I think that scaffolding and frameworks are very effective. I subscribe to the idea that when starting to program, I write something that will do what I want and then selectively remove bits, adding hints for the students. Students find an empty page daunting – whether it be web design, programming, spreadsheets – even DTP and slideshows. Heck, even I will prefer to use a DTP template and adjust it rather than start from nothing.
I wonder, though, if that’s doing students a disservice. I said at the start that, with a spreadsheet model for example, I just start hashing it out. I’ve built plenty of websites and written plenty of programs without someone setting it all up for me. Am I about to send hundreds of students out into the world without the skills that I, myself, have to use day in and day out?
I think it would be too simplistic to say “give them a scaffold” at KS3 but “make them do it from scratch” at KS4. I don’t see how I can expect some switch to flick sometime between taking options and the summer holidays at which point students can suddenly be expected to do this for themselves.
What’s the answer? Well, I’m pretty sure it varies depending on the topic, and the student. I happily still use scaffolding for programming at KS5 (as does the exam), but I’m not going to give my Y7s a writing frame in PowerPoint.
If anyone does have the answer then please do share it, because I really don’t…