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February 1, 1996
Vol. 53
No. 5

Scaffolded Reading Experiences for Inclusive Classes

By bridging the gap between youngsters' reading levels and the reading goals for their inclusive classes, Scaffolded Reading Experiences help all students get the most out of what they read.

A set of training wheels on a bicycle is a classic example of scaffolding. It is adjustable and temporary, providing the young rider with the support he or she needs while learning to ride a two-wheeler. Without an aid of this sort, the complex task of learning to pedal, balance, and steer all at one time would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for many youngsters. This scaffold—training wheels—allows the learner to accomplish a goal, riding a bicycle successfully, and then to happily pedal his or her way into a wider world.
Scaffolding—providing support to help learners bridge the gap between what they know and can do and the intended goal—is frequently singled out as one of the most effective instructional techniques available (Cazden 1992, Rosenshine and Meister 1992, Sweet 1993). As David Pearson (1996) points out, “Scaffolding allows us, as teachers, to intervene in an environment and provide the cueing, questioning, coaching, corroboration, and plain old information needed to allow students to complete a task before they are able to complete it independently.”
Donald Wood and his colleagues (1976), who were the first to use the term in its educational sense, define scaffolding as “a process that enables a child or novice to solve a problem, carry out a task, or achieve a goal which would be beyond his [or her] unassisted efforts (p. 90).”
Quite obviously, whether or not they use the term, teachers frequently use scaffolding in their classrooms. We believe that scaffolding can be used profitably even more frequently and more deliberately, particularly with classes that embrace students with a broad range of backgrounds and abilities.
In particular, we recommend the Scaffolded Reading Experience (Graves and Graves 1994), a flexible framework designed to help students get the most out of each and every literacy experience. It is our attempt to create an experience that will lead all children to success, whether they are struggling readers, average readers, or above-average readers. We find the approach particularly appropriate for inclusive classrooms. It can reverse the cycle of failure and frustration that so many students—with and without disabilities—experience when reading.

Activities for Three Phases

How does this approach work? The teacher begins by considering three interrelated factors—the students, their purposes for reading, and the text to be read. Then, based on these three factors, the teacher carefully selects a set of activities that will help these students achieve their particular reading goals. The teacher designs specific activities for each of three phases of the reading experience—prereading, during-reading, and post-reading.
Of course, there are myriad possibilities for each of these phases. Among them:
  • Relating the reading to students' lives
  • Motivating students
  • Activating background knowledge
  • Building text-specific knowledge
  • Teaching vocabulary and concepts
  • Pre-questioning, predicting, and setting direction
  • Suggesting strategies
  • Silent reading
  • Reading to students
  • Guided reading
  • Oral reading by students
  • Modifying the text
  • Questions
  • Discussions
  • Writing
  • Drama
  • Artistic endeavors
  • Application and outreach activities
  • Reteaching

Supporting Baby

Suppose, for example, that a homogeneous group of 6th graders is reading Patricia MacLachlan's Baby, a relatively short, well-crafted novel that explores several universal themes accessible for young readers. The narrator is a girl of 11 or 12 named Larkin. She relates what happens when she finds a baby girl left in a basket on her doorstep. In caring for the baby, Larkin and her family learn to deal with the tragic loss of Larkin's infant brother.
The story serves several purposes well: It provides students with a successful and enjoyable experience reading outstanding literature; it enables them to respond to a powerful story; and it allows them to make personal connections with the emotions and situations of the characters.
  1. Relate the reading to the students' lives by asking them to think about several questions: Have you ever lost anything that you cared about a great deal? What if the very thing you lost suddenly appeared on your doorstep, but it belonged to someone else? How would you feel? What would you do? After students answered these questions, we would tell them that in the story they were about to read, what the family lost was a baby, and what they found on their doorstep was another baby.
  2. Motivate the students by having them act out the emotions of finding a baby on their doorstep. A doll in a basket could serve as a prop.
  3. Pre-question, predict, and set direction by asking students to do the following: Think about why a baby might be left on a doorstep; predict who might leave it there and why; and read the story to find out if their predictions were accurate, as well as to discover what happens to the baby and the family that finds her.
  1. Guide reading by inviting students to flag passages they find particularly interesting and memorable, so that they can share them with classmates later.
  2. Read the first chapter aloud to get everyone off to a good start, perhaps stopping once or twice to note passages that are particularly interesting and memorable.
Finally, we would give students a schedule for completing the novel over the next several days. It would include reading to do in class and outside of class.
  1. Discuss—first in small groups and then as a class—the experience's impact on Larkin and her family, their favorite passages and why they liked them, and aspects of the story that related to their own lives.
  2. Offer a choice of several writing and artistic activities, such as creating picture books of Baby to share with younger students; composing a theme song for the story; or reading other works by the same author, then writing previews to entice classmates to read these books.
In all, this homogeneous group of 6th graders would spend about a week on the novel. Chances are good that the scaffolding would make their reading experience a rewarding one.

Variations for Varied Readers

When all students in a class have similar abilities and background knowledge, the teacher can design a single Scaffolded Reading Experience for that class. In this ideal situation, the teacher will be free to devote all of his or her time to the group as a whole and its single lesson plan.
In inclusive classrooms, however, success for all students will frequently demand differentiated Scaffolded Reading Experiences, that is, different combinations of activities for different students. Often, this means using two Scaffolded Reading Experiences—one for students who read without a great deal of support, and one for those who do need additional support.
Suppose that instead of the homogeneous group of 6th graders in our example, the class consisted of 23 average to above-average readers and 5 students who experienced difficulty in reading lengthy, grade-level material. Assume further that two of these five youngsters have consistently been placed in low reading groups, while the other three were at one time diagnosed as learning disabled and were previously placed in special classes.
The question now becomes, how can we modify our Scaffolded Reading Experience to enable these five readers to experience success in reading Baby? First, we do not want to make the plan any more complex than it has to be. Second, we'd like to avoid, or at least minimize, separating the students who find reading a challenge from the rest of the class.
Our solution is a differentiated Scaffolded Reading Experience with additional activities for these five students. The plan, with the extra activities in boldfaced type, is as follows:
  • Relating the reading to students' lives
  • Motivating students
  • Pre-questioning, predicting, and setting direction
  • Building text-specific knowledge
  • Guided reading
  • Reading to students (the first chapter)
  • Reading to students (additional chapters)
  • Modifying the text
  • Reteaching
  • Discussion
  • Writing or artistic activities
After the entire class has completed its prereading activities, we build text-specific knowledge for these five students. Because they may find it confusing to try to keep the story's several characters straight, we read the students thumbnail sketches of each character, giving them bookmarks with each main character's name written on them. Also, as we introduce these characters, we naturally preview the novel.
Even with this additional prereading assistance, these students may still not fully succeed in reading the text silently on their own. To further assist them after we have read the opening chapter aloud to the class, we read several more chapters to them as they follow along in their books. Then, because we have taken some of their reading time already and because these less skilled readers tend to read slowly, we modify the text by orally summarizing the next several chapters. These students will now have only about half the book left to read, a much more manageable task than reading all of it.
Post-reading options for these five students will be the same as for the rest of the class. But before they join the discussion groups, we meet with them, check their understanding of the story, and do any reteaching we think they'll need to participate fully in the discussions and competently complete the writing or artistic activities.
All children need to—and deserve to—succeed in the majority of their attempts to read, regardless of whether they are in an inclusive class, a tracked class, or a special class. If they do not become proficient readers, they certainly will not become avid readers—adults who choose to read because they find reading informative, enjoyable, and rewarding. Scaffolded Reading Experiences is a practical way to guide youngsters to that goal.

Cazden, C. B. (1992). Whole Language Plus: Essays on Literacy in the United States and New Zealand. New York: Teachers College Press.

Graves, M. F., and B. B. Graves. (1994). Scaffolding Reading Experiences: Designs for Student Success. Norwood, Mass.: Christopher-Gordon.

MacLachlan, P. (1993). Baby. New York: Delacorte Press.

Pearson, P. D. (1996). “Reclaiming the Center.” In The First R: A Right of All Children, edited by M. F. Graves, P. van den Broek, and B. M. Taylor. New York: Teachers College Press.

Rosenshine, B., and C. Meister. (1992). “The Use of Scaffolds for Teaching Higher-level Cognitive Strategies.” Educational Leadership 49, 7: 26-33.

Sweet, A. P. (1993). State of the Art: Transforming Ideas for Teaching and Learning to Read. Washington, D.C.: U. S. Department of Education.

Wood, D. J., J. S. Bruner, and G. Ross. (1976). “The Role of Tutoring in Problem-solving.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 17, 2: 89-100.

Bonnie B. Graves has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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