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Scaffolding in Let’s Think in English

Scaffolding in Let’s Think in English

“We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.”.

“Scaffolding” from Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966–1996 by Seamus Heaney.

Every year I try to teach Let’s Think in English (LTE) on a regular basis. As part of LTE training, tutors model lessons but we know teaching a one-off lesson on a visit is different to working with a class throughout an academic year. The opportunities as a tutor to consider the development of a class and individuals while receiving feedback from class teachers and visitors are rich.

This year I’m fortunate to teach LTE in a school where the Headteacher was trained in Let’s Think at the start of their career. In recent years, I’ve provided support for the school via modelled LTE lessons and presentations. The school values oracy and dialogic teaching with talk permeating their classrooms and enjoyed working with Voice 21 last academic year to further embed oracy across the curriculum.

The Year 6 class are new to LTE.
When introducing LTE the foundations needed are culture and habits. So, as we recommend to teachers, I started by focusing in on Howe and Mercer’s classroom indicators for dialogic teaching ( and the scaffolding that supports this.

1. High level of participation.

One of the keys to programmes like Let’s Think in English is to encourage high participation for all. As the work of Lefstein A, Snell J. 2014. Better Than Best Practice Developing Teaching and Learning Through Dialogue, a brilliant read, highlights:

“Research has shown that teachers often believe that only some pupils – usually the high achievers and those from privileged social backgrounds – are capable of participating effectively in academically challenging discussion, and this has an impact on the kinds of questions they ask pupils and the level of structure and control they apply “.

As such, in LTE, we try provide opportunities for all pupils to verbalise their thinking and share their ideas.

With this class most pupils were keen to contribute in groups and in whole class feedback. However I still implemented some simple scaffolds such as numbering in the group to ensure turn taking, setting small group size (typically triads), emphasising the need for representative feedback from groups rather than individual feedback, selecting who provides the feedback for groups and inviting pupils to respond to one another.

2 Encourage pupils to deepen their thinking.

The key here is to ensure pupils move beyond merely providing answers and also reveal their rationale. Some pupils were immediately able to deepen and explain their thinking as they responded to questions while others benefited from simple prompts such as:

“How do you know that?”
“Can you tell me more?”
“What lead you to think that?”
“How is your idea similar or different to X’s?”

It appeared for some thoughts were already formed but pupils didn’t see the need for explanation while for others prompts encouraged them to reflect upon their instinctive thoughts and to clarify and strengthen them.

3. Encourage pupils to respond to each other.

I often feel this is the aspect that takes longest to develop with classes. Normally pupils view the main audience for their responses as their teacher and are really seeking affirmation. In LTE, as in other dialogic lessons, the audience is the whole class including the teacher. As such in LTE we place pupils in the role of critical evaluators. Teachers adopt a more neutral stance and encourage pupils to monitor and evaluate the ideas shared; a key component of metacognition.

Interestingly this class had a range of prepared ways of responding to each other they were familiar with, using signals such as:

Placing one fist upon another to build
Flexing arm muscles to signal they wish to add onto something
And thumbs up for agreement.

As I started the lesson this visual signalling while unexpected appeared an eye-catching means of feedback to peers and me. Usually in LTE we seek verbal signs of response and as a scaffold we might introduce the idea/language of ABC: agree, build and challenge. We might invite and encourage pupils to respond to each other using these terms to interlink their thinking or seek feedback from the class through more subtle gestures such as head nodding, facial expressions etc

As this lesson developed, I wondered if the physical signals were having their desired effect. Were they really responding through these signals or was this like having ones hand up indicating you wished to speak? In LTE we discourage hands up when pupils are speaking as we emphasise the need to actively listen to what a peer is saying before responding rather than focusing on your own point.

Listening is so important in dialogic teaching and I found the frantic hand signals a distraction from engaging with the pupils’ points and I wondered if it was the same for the pupils too? While the hand signals provide the visual appearance of engaging, I wondered if this scaffold was necessary, helpful or if the pupils had outgrown it. In the next lesson, I plan to ask the pupils to focus more on the language of responding.

I was keen to receive feedback from pupils on their first LTE lesson so I asked them to independently share their thoughts on a mini-whiteboard. Interestingly, their feedback was split between the content of the lesson (a film) and the structure of the lesson. The feedback clearly indicates a connection between learning, fun and group work. Something to build upon in the coming months.

Pupil responses:

I think the lesson was really fun. I like the teacher the film was also good.
I really though of it as fun when we were watching.
It was really fun and I loved all the class discussions.
I like the film and the lesson was fun.
I thought very carefully about him being hungry as soon as he gets in the black hole.
I liked that we all engaged and talked together as a class building and listening to each other and all of us being able to put in our input.
I thought it was fun. The film was interesting. I also like how we were building and challenging.
I liked the film because it was a bit tense and it was horror. Also it was fun how we were agreeing and disagreeing.
I really liked it when I got to cooperate with my friends an d I was really fun dand educated especially with the movie.
Very fun and I enjoyed working in groups.
Very fun and enjoyable especially in groups.
I liked it when the mean stole the chocolate bar and avoided paying 50p.
I like this style of literacy because you pitch your ideas and no one is wrong.
I liked it. I liked discussing what happened in the video and listening to other peoples’ ideas. It was fun.
It was really fun because we got to work together in group. The video was alos fun to talk abougt and predict what happened.
I thought it was to learn a lesson not to steal.
I thought it was suspenseful which made it fun.
This lesson amazing. I loved it.

*One pupil did not respond while another accidently deleted their response.

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