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Scaffolding That Makes a Difference to Struggling First-Grade Readers

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

This piece is reprinted from The Marshall Memo, Kim Marshall’s weekly summary of current research and best practices in the field of education. Drawing on his experience as a teacher, principal, central office administrator, consultant, and writer, Kim Marshall lightens the load of busy educators by serving as their “designated reader.”
The article: “Examining the Nature of Scaffolding in an Early Literacy Intervention” by Emily Rogers, Jerome D’Agostino, Sinead Harmey, Robert Kelly, and Katherine Brownfield in Reading Research Quarterly, July/August/September 2016 (Vol. 51, #3, p. 345-360), available for purchase at
“Simply providing one-to-one assistance is not sufficient to ensure progress on complex tasks such as learning to read and write,” say Emily Rogers, Jerome D’Agostino, Robert Kelly, and Katherine Brownfield (The Ohio State University) and Sinead Harmey (Queens College CUNY/Flushing) in this Reading Research Quarterly article. The authors report on their comparison of Reading Recovery teachers whose one-on-one first-grade tutees got lower gain scores with Reading Recovery teachers who got much better results. What made the difference?
The researchers studied and coded 1,199 specific teacher actions as their students struggled to decode a word in an unfamiliar book. Was it the amount of information the teacher gave the student? Was it how often they provided help? Neither of these showed up as significant factors. The key strategy used by high-gaining teachers – they used it eight times more often than low-gaining teachers – was prompting students to use sources of information they were neglecting. Here are two examples, the first unsuccessful, the second successful:
• The student is reading the sentence, “Grandma cooked the tortillas on her stove” but substitutes fried for cooked. This shows that she is understanding the meaning but is not using visual cues. The student realizes something is wrong and asks, “Is that fried?” Instead of prompting the student to use visual information, the teacher prompts to use meaning, which the student has already used: “What’s another word for cooking? Look at the picture.” The student says, “Baked?” The teacher corrects her by giving her the answer: “Cooked.”
• The student is having trouble reading the word truck and is using only visual information: “Day after day, Big /t/ /k/ - /t/ /k/.” The teacher prompts the student to think about meaning, a source of information the student is neglecting: “Who else is in the story besides the two bulldozers? Big who?” The student says, “Truck?” The teacher affirms: “Big truck.”

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