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8 Strategies for Scaffolding Instruction

With the advent of the common-core standards, our thinking about how to support second language learners has become super important. While opting for services like Translation Services London is an excellent way to get one’s work translated, one also has to know more than one language fluently. Our current focus for supportive instruction may be on grammar and vocabulary or we may be modifying the texts English Language Learners (ELLs) work with during a lesson so they’re at a more “appropriate level.”  Under the standards developed through the Common Core State Standards Initiative, however, instruction for ELLs will have to move beyond modifying lesson materials and teaching fundamental components of language.  Educators now have to ensure that we are teaching ALL kids, no matter their language background or where they are academically, how to grapple with complex, grade level information and texts.

So how do we do this?  Well, a piece of it is thinking more carefully about what supports or scaffolds we can add to our instruction.

Through my experience working as a classroom teacher in an urban school with a large number of second language learners, along with two years experience as our school’s English Language Acquisition Teacher Leader, I have identified eight “scaffolding strategies” that I believe should always be considered when planning instruction for second language learners:

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Click Here for the 8 Scaffolding Strategies Printable

When I set out to plan a lesson, I always consider how to use any or all of these eight scaffolding strategies to support comprehension and language development.

1. Visuals and Realia

Whenever I can I include realia, or real life, tangible objects in my lessons.  I have found that realia is super supportive for vocabulary development and engagement.  For example, I recently selected a text about coral reefs for a close read lesson.  I wasn’t sure students would know what “coral” was, so I brought in an actual piece of coral to pass around.  If you don’t have realia available for a lesson, use visuals or images!  You can frequently find me on Google images, looking for that just right visual to support my lesson.

2. Modeling/Gestures

If you were to observe me teaching a lesson, you would likely see me making all kinds of funny looking gestures.  Funny looking maybe, but supportive definitely!  When all you do is talk/lecture to students who don’t speak English as their first language, most of what you say will probably fly right over their head.  Modeling and gestures help bring your words to life.  Couple this with the use of supportive visuals and say hello to comprehension!

3. Connect to Background Knowledge

When planning for the “hook” or introduction in a lesson, I consider what background knowledge students might have that I can connect to.  For example, I might show them a picture of something related to our lesson and ask them a question about it.  Connecting previous knowledge/learning to new learning is always a great support for ELLs.

4. Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers may not be an appropriate scaffold for every lesson, but they are for many!  You can create your own or use one of the many free ones to be found on the www.  Graphic organizers can be used as a tool to help students organize their thinking when responding to a text.  They key is not to make them too complicated or they may end up being exactly the opposite of a useful thinking support.

5. Sentence Structures/Starters

Sentence structures can be a great support for English Language Learners.  I often use them during the close of a lesson in the debrief or share.  You can also slightly differentiate graphic organizers or recording sheets you provide students by adding sentence structures.

6. Read Aloud

Reading a grade level, complex text aloud to students at the start of the lesson can serve three important purposes:  support engagement, support fluency, and give ELLs some access to the text they’ll be working with.  When reading a text aloud to students, it’s important that it is displayed in a way that all students can easily see it.

7. Intentional Small Group/Partner Work

To support students during independent work time, you can consider small group or partner work.  I say “intentional” small group/partner work because it’s important to consider how and why you’re pairing certain students.  Pairing two students just because one is a “high” reader and the other is a less sophisticated reader can quickly backfire if you haven’t considered how their personalities/work styles might pair up.  Additionally, if you have chosen to provide a small group of students with additional support, just be aware of how much support you’re providing…hopefully not too much!  We don’t want to take away all the challenges that a text/lesson presents.

8. Use of First Language

If a student’s first language is available to you, then by all means make use of it as a scaffold.  I’m not implying that the whole lesson should be translated.  However if you can translate important vocabulary words, make connections between concepts presented, or translate specific instructions then go for it!

As a final note, even if you do not work with ELLs, try to keep in mind that good instruction for second language learners is great instruction for all kids!

Thanks for reading, and download your Scaffolding Strategies Printable for free.


Professional Learning Binder

For the past few weeks I’ve been pondering how to support teachers in documenting, organizing, and reflecting on their work and learning done in coaching cycles, particularly the use of evidence and data in supporting student achievement.  I wanted teachers to have a lasting, tangible product to walk away with after the completion of coaching to support their future work.  After a conversation with my principal during which she suggested creating “Professional Learning Binders” with teachers, I thought this could be a great solution to my dilemma!

I envisioned teachers being able to use their Professional Learning Binders in a variety of ways.  First, as a model for how to organize other classroom assessments and data.  Well analyzed and organized data is so important in instruction, but many teachers struggle with the organization piece.  Using the Analyzing Assessments tool, the featured Monitoring Grid and a few labeled dividers can all help with this.  Additionally, teachers can use collected work in the Professional Learning Binders as part of a larger teacher portfolio.  Like other professionals, teachers need evidence of their growth and achievement over time.

Now with all that said, let’s have a look!

Binder Cover

***If you would like a personalized binder cover in the design featured here, send me an email and I will make one for you free of charge!

Front of Binder

Binder Spine

The first two tabs are labeled “Planning” and “Assessment.”  The Planning section includes documents that helped guide our identified coaching goal such as our school Work Plan and Expedition planning documents.   I also included a copy of our “Goals and Planning” page which outlines our student learning goal and if applicable, teacher learning goal.

The Assessment section features collected assessments for each student divided by name labels.  There is also a Monitoring Grid included for each student.  You can use mailing labels to collect information on each student tied to identified learning targets.  Then at the end of the week, just peel and stick!

Click to Download a PDF of the Monitoring Grid

At the front of the assessment section is the Analyzing Assessments tool we used to organize assessment information into a data set to support us with planning.

Click to Download Analyzing Assessments Tool

The last three tabs are labeled “Instruction,” “Results,” and “Reference.”  In the Instruction section I plan to collect a few example lessons that I observe and give feedback on during the coaching cycle.  After a post-assessment is given at the completion of the coaching cycle and we have data to show what progress was made, this will be included in the Results section.  Additionally, I plan to ask teachers to write a short reflection on their work done in coaching and their learning as a result which will also be included.  In the Reference section, I have included a few professional articles tied to our coaching goal as an additional resource.

This is a GREAT article by the way if you’ve been learning about Close Reading!  You can download it here.

I hope this post sparked your thinking for how you can support teachers in organizing and reflecting on important information tied to your coaching work.  If you are a teacher, hopefully this post gave you some ideas for how to begin a professional learning binder/portfolio of your own!

Thanks for reading,

Instructional Coaching Tools

Last week I shared the instructional coaching data tracker I use to help organize and reflect on my work in coaching cycles throughout the year.  In the post I mentioned that I use a variety of other coaching tools to document and organize work with individual teachers.  Here are a two of my most important.

Coaching Kick-Off Meeting

At the start of instructional coaching cycles, two of the most important things we can do as coaches is to establish a respectful and trusting rapport with our coachee and also show that we honor them as an adult learner. You can work to implement these two practices in part by setting up a Kick Off coaching meeting.  The first purpose of this time is to get to know your coachee as a teacher and learner.  The second purpose is to work together to identify a goal for your coaching cycle. In having this kick off coaching conversation, you are establishing yourself as a “thinking partner” who is there to learn along with them. Additionally, you are setting routines and norms for your work together and clarifying logistics, which I have found helps in preventing potential misunderstandings down the road. Creating an agenda for this meeting helps to ensure that your time is purposeful and action-oriented.

Instructional Coaching Tools

Download your FREE Coaching Kick-Off Printable Here

Coaching Work Plan Tool

This is a great tool to help you craft a plan for your coaching goals, how you plan to arrive at these goals, and the results of your work.  After the Kick-Off meeting, I set-up a Goal Setting meeting with teachers and use this tool to guide our conversation.  I’ll revisit it throughout the coaching cycle to ensure that our work is staying on track.  In the final coaching wrap-up meeting I have with teachers, we review and document the results of our work using this tool.

Instructional Coaching Tools

Instructional Coaching Tools

Instructional Coaching Observation and Debrief Tool

This instructional coaching observation form is my go-to tool for all of my coaching observations and debrief conversations.  I record our coaching cycle goal at the top to ensure alignment between learning targets and look-fors in the lesson.  The listed debrief questions always serve as anchors for post observation conversations.  As far as instructional next steps, one thing I have learned is fewer is better!  Ensure that the teacher you are working with has identified and committed to 1-2 instructional next steps they feel will support student progress, but also feel manageable.

Instructional Coaching Tools

Instructional Coaching Tools

Download your FREE Coaching Kick-Off Printable Here

And for the complete
Simplified Coaching Planning Kit …


Talk to you soon!



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Coaching Data Tracker

One of my New Year’s resolutions as an instructional coach is to keep better track of the work I do with teachers.  I have a variety of “coaching tools” that I use with individual teachers throughout coaching cycles­ to document and organize our work, however nothing that provides a collective big picture.  In comes the “Coaching Data Tracker!”

Click to Download

I think this is an important document to create and maintain for a couple of reasons.  First, it can be passed on to your principal for the purpose of making sure that you’re both “on the same page.”  While I do have coaching check-ins with my principal, I knew she would just love to have a single go-to document that shows the complete coaching story at Tollgate.

Second, creating this Coaching Data Tracker is seriously great for your own reflection!  For example, in the process of creating mine it was rewarding to see the student and teacher growth I contributed to in my coaching cycles.  Additionally, it pushed me to think harder about how to achieve even better results in future coaching.

Reflecting on what we are doing well and how we can improve is an important part of our work as instructional coaches.  I hope this Coaching Data Tracker supports you in the process.

Tracking My Progress: Fluency

A few weeks ago I wrote about the importance of student-engaged assessment and progress tracking in motivating students and supporting their achievement.  In this post I’ll share a few ideas for how to help students self-assess and track their progress towards the following target:

Teachers can think of reading fluency as the bridge between the two major components of reading: decoding and comprehension (Honig, Diamond, Gutlohn 2008). Differences in reading fluency can distinguish good readers from struggling readers.

To support students in self-assessing their reading fluency, visually friendly rubrics with clear criteria for success can be very helpful.

Click to Download

After introducing the learning target to students, show them the rubric.  Ensure that students understand each of the four areas addressed (Phrasing, Rate, Punctuation, and Expression) and how to assess themselves within each area (Scoring a 1,2,3, or 4).  It can be overwhelming for students when the whole rubric is plopped in front of them and explained. Therefore I would suggest explicitly addressing only one area at a time.  Furthermore, it may not even be necessary to use the whole rubric with students if their next step in fluency is tied specifically to rate.  Use your professional judgement to make smart decisions for your kids!

In order for students to be able to self-assess their fluency using this rubric, they need to “hear” themselves as readers.  Rather than asking students to read-aloud, listen to themselves, and then self-assess, I think it’s much more effective to teach students to record their thinking, play it back, and then self-assess.  There is a free iPad app that works great for this…QuickVoice.

Click for More Information

QuickVoice is super user friendly and easy for students to use on their own.  Students can record and self-assess themselves several times using the rubric.  They definitely have fun with this!  To ensure that students are successful provide a model of what this self-assessment process looks like.  Additionally, provide students with short and engaging passages that they can read at an independent level.

For slow but accurate readers who need intense practice to increase their automaticity in reading connected text, you can try timed repeated oral reading.  With this strategy students can track their progress using a graph.

Click to Download

Begin be setting a goal with students.  For example, if a student begins by reading early-first-grade text, his final goal might be to read mid-second-grade text at 90 WPM (words per minute).  Mark students beginning WPM score on their graph.  From this point draw an “aim line” to meet the point marking the students end of 9 week goal.  This line shows how much daily or weekly progress a students needs to make to meet their final goal.

Introduce one new, short, engaging text to students at the beginning of each week that they can read at their independent level.  Be sure to first read the text with the student and have a conversation about it.  Share with students that rereading the passage throughout the week will not only support their fluency, but will also help them to better understand the text!

Do a one minute timed reading with the student each day of the week until they meet their end of week goal (indicated by the aim line). Mark the students WPM score for the week in the corresponding box for the day.  Students can also mark their score with a colored pen on their aim line.

It’s great fun to see students enthusiasm and motivation for reaching their goal.

I hope these tools and ideas will help you better support students struggling with fluency.

Student Engaged Assessment

Are you looking for a way to motivate your students, get them excited about learning, and support their progress?  Then student-engaged assessment is for you!  If you have never heard of this assessment strategy or don’t know how to make it happen in your classroom don’t worry, you’re not alone and I can help.

I first learned about student-engaged assessment when our school adopted the Expeditionary Learning model.  Expeditionary Learning embraces this assessment practice in building student ownership of learning and driving achievement.  Even after learning about what student-engaged assessment was, it took me awhile to really get it and begin to put it in place in my own classroom.   When I did, my understandings clicked into place and I never looked at assessment the same way again.

Student-engaged assessment teaches students to continually track, reflect on, and share their progress towards learning targets or goals they have set for themselves.  Using assessment in such a way is motivating and fun for students!  Who’d have thought?

A key piece in the success of student-engaged assessment is maintaining the belief that everyone is capable of high achievement and that learning comes as a result of effort.  This goes for both students and teachers!

I encourage you to give it a try.  To get you started, I have included a few “Tracking Progress” printables below.

Click to Download

This first document can be used in any subject area.  I used it frequently during our “expeditions” or long-term units of study.  Fill in your long term learning targets or objectives at the bottom and provide a copy for each student.  Then introduce your students to the different proficiency descriptors and teach them what they mean.  One of the most important pieces in teaching students to track their progress is to stress the importance of honesty.  Students are often hesitant to assess themselves as “Beginning”, but let them know that this is totally okay!  When they’re clear about where they are, where they need to go, and how they’re going to get there they will build the confidence and motivation to work their way up to “Proficient” or “Advanced.”

You can ask students to track their progress against a target being worked on once or twice a week.  Students can mark a dot to show where they think they are and record the date alongside it so that they can see  their growth over time.

As you work through your unit, help students analyze their progress charts and why they are or are not making growth.

In addition to the individual tracking progress sheets, you can create a whole class tracking progress chart.  These are really fun and supportive because you can see where everyone is in relation to the targets.  Student’s competitive instinct tends to kick in and they enjoy putting forth a bit more effort to ensure they don’t fall behind their peers.

Click to Download

This second document was created specifically to help students track their progress as readers.  Both a fourth and fifth grade teacher I have been working with are using this form with their students and tell me that their kids really dig it.  They now clearly know where they stand, what level they’re working towards, and the specific goals to focus on to help them get there (you can record these goals with students in the section on the right of the document).  This progress tracker can be adjusted to better reflect the reading levels appropriate for your grade level.  Another idea is to leave it as is and include it in end of the year information to be passed up to the student’s next year teacher.  Students can then continue tracking their progress as readers in their new grade level.

Developing the skills of data collection, inquiry, and analysis in achieving goals is a great skill to teach students in the elementary grades.  It will surely set them up for success in the future.

Thanks for reading,

Visual Agendas

Sharing learning targets and the agenda with staff is always a first step in our Thursday PD sessions.  I used to post the agenda in a standard list format on a piece of chart paper. As I wrote in my last post on infographics, I’m a big fan of using visuals to enhance a message.  So rather than posting PD agendas in a boring old list, I’m now creating visual agendas.  One benefit of creating visual agendas is that the experience provides me with a clear picture of where I intend to lead teachers.  Additionally, this process helps me storyboard the entire professional development session.  As I plan I am able to see possible gaps or misunderstandings prior to PD which allows me to sharpen the agenda and subsequently the teacher’s take-aways.

As a teacher attending professional development I appreciate when my interest is sparked and the learning is clear.  Visual agendas help with this.

I’ve shared a few examples below.  You can create them electronically or with good old butcher paper.  Hopefully they will inspire you to use more visuals to enhance your instruction.

Thanks for reading!


Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge



The Story of Guided Reading

Guided reading is an approach to literacy instruction that teachers at our school have been working hard to understand and implement in their classrooms.  We did a ton of work and thinking with this strategy last year in PD and continue to build on and refine our understandings this year.

Below is an infographic I created to summarize the WHAT, WHY, and HOW of guided reading in a visually friendly way.  As an educator I’m all about using visuals to help make sense of tricky topics or ideas.  Infographics allow you to “tell a story” with graphics and information.  This happens to be my first one and I have to say it was super fun to make!  I hope it helps you make sense of guided reading.

Below the infographic I have included a video of a guided reading lesson, accompanying lesson plan, and guided reading planning template.

Thanks for reading and Happy Thanksgiving!


Guided Reading Infographic

This is a video we used as a model of quality guided reading instruction during a recent PD.  Thanks Becky for letting us learn from you!

Here is a link to Becky’s lesson plan if you would like to give it a go (Becky’s Lesson Plan)!  This lesson is suited for J level readers.

Click Here to Download Planning Template 



PD Pad Set-Up

Last year I had my first go at setting up a professional development room for teachers.  It turned out to be an enjoyable space for teachers to work and learn in and has since been lovingly named the PD Pad.  Given a new fire code put in place by the district (only 20% of walls are allowed to be covered with paper), I had to get creative with how to set-up the space this year.  I used sheet metal, clipboards, chalkboards, and creatively arranged fabric to bring color and style into the room while still keeping the fire marshal happy.   Check it out!

View from the back of the room

View from the front of the room

I used a piece of sheet metal from Home Depot ($15 and fireproof!) and chalkboard paint to create the background for this documentation panel and the one below.

Our Work Plan targets for the year

I used small chalks boards and bistro chalk from Hobby Lobby to display our school’s Habits of Work and Learning.

I covered plain clipboards with decorative paper, attached our design principles, and spread them out a bit when hanging to create the illusion of a larger display space without having to use paper.

It’s amazing what a few fabric scraps and fabric glue can do for casement windows. Then if you need casement windows fitted then you need to ensure that you get a top installer who will do an amazing job and that company are the best that we have ever used.

I added a few colored flowers (turned into pens) to the pencil holders on the center of each table for a pop of functional color.

I laminated our five “Habits” and adhered them to the front of each table’s pencil bin.

Books for guided reading are available for teachers to check-out.

I asked our principal for subscriptions to a few different educational magazines. These as well as professional books (to the left) are available for teachers to look through or check-out.

A comfy space for teachers to sit and peruse through the latest read-alouds.

A few parts of the room which haven’t changed include our “Cafe” area, “All About Me” teacher cards, and teacher magnets to check-in with at the start of PD.

What An Educator Can Learn From A Cyclist

This weekend I went for a bike ride with my friend Anne.  As we were cruising through the back roads of Boulder, Colorado I couldn’t help but think how similar cycling is to teaching.  Allow me to elaborate…

Cyclists live in one of two seasons: the on-season or the off-season.  During the off-season they take time to rest and recover, reflect on accomplishments made during the on-season, and set their sights on larger goals for the season ahead.  As educators, we experience our off-season during our summer breaks.  We walk out of school on the last day and allow ourselves to deeply exhale.  We reflect on the progress made with our students or with other teachers we’ve worked with (for us instructional coaches).  Hopefully we are honest with ourselves during this time of reflection and can clearly see what worked and what might need some shaping up next season.

After each off-season for us educators, we have the great opportunity to return to school and start fresh.  As we head into this school year, here are a few things we can learn from the sport of cycling that when applied to our teaching lives may serve to strengthen our own on-season.  Let’s ride!

Hills Make You Stronger

As Anne and I were cruising along one of the flat, straightaway sections of our ride, life felt good.  I was in my comfort zone, my body felt strong, and my mind felt focused.  After rounding a bend though, the road started to change.  It started to go up.  Before I knew it I was climbing one heck of a steep hill.  My legs started to slow down, my bike wobbled underneath me, and my mind felt anything but focused.

These moments not only exist on the road, they are also very real occurrences during our days in the classroom.  A student who you feel like you’ve finally gotten a pretty good handle on all of a sudden explodes because of an argument over a pencil and the calm in your classroom turns to chaos.  The copier breaks just when you need it most or a lesson you spent a good deal of time planning totally bombs.  Sometimes these “hills” string together and you feel like you’ll never make it to the top.

Whatever you do…don’t stop pedaling.  Dig deep and keep cranking.  Once you’re off the bike it is significantly harder to get started again.   Just when you think you can’t go anymore, guess what…YOU CAN.  When you do arrive at the top you’ll be stronger and wiser as a result.

Ride With Others

Going on a ride with others is just more fun.   Team rides can motivate you and improve your skills.  You can also be sure there will be someone there to help you out in the case of a flat tire or a forgotten granola bar.

Teachers have an enormously complex job with a crazy number of responsibilities.  Working together as a team (grade-level, administration, specialists, school wide) matters.  Our fellow educators can inspire us, support us, laugh with us, or just grab a coffee with us.  Research shows that relational trust among teachers and school leaders improves student achievement.

So this year remember to smile and say “hello” to other teachers in the hall, assume positive intent, and stop to help when you see another teacher with a flat.  Little things like that make a difference.

Set Goals, Train Hard

If you were to ask just about any cyclist who has completed a century ride how they were able to accomplish such a feat, I would be willing to bet they would say it involved goal setting and some serious training.

Setting goals for yourself and your students using all current data (formal and informal) that you have ensures that you have a clear target to aim for.  Without that do you really know where you’re headed in your day-day work or why you’re headed there?  Concrete goals inspire us and tracking our training or our progress motivates us.  If you can involve students in tracking their OWN progress towards clear learning targets, even better!

Our instruction in the classroom must be strategic, precise, and engaging to make “century ride” results a reality.

Coaching Counts

Competitive cyclists care about results.  They realize that few can sustain their best performance on their own.  This is where coaching comes in.

I recently read a great article that spoke to this truth about coaching.  In it the author discusses the importance of coaching in becoming your “personal best.”  The following excerpt from this article aptly describes the important role a coach plays in doing so:

Élite performers, researchers say, must engage in “deliberate practice”—sustained, mindful efforts to develop the full range of abilities that success requires. You have to work at what you’re not good at. In theory, people can do this themselves. But most people do not know where to start or how to proceed. Expertise, as the formula goes, requires going from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence and finally to unconscious competence. The coach provides the outside eyes and ears, and makes you aware of where you’re falling short.

Through a variety of approaches (co-planning, demonstration, descriptive feedback) instructional coaches can help push your thinking and your practice.  Letting someone into your classroom to observe you can feel like an intimidating risk.  Taking important risks like this however can pay off greatly for you and your students.  So this year open your doors, invite in your instructional coach and see how far you and your students can climb.

Rest and Recover

Rest and recovery are essential for high-level performance.  This is true for both cycling and teaching.  One of the best things you can do for yourself after a long ride is to eat a good meal, kick up your feet and take it easy.  This is great training advice for us educators as well.

Cyclists know that when they don’t build in enough days for rest and recovery, they’re at risk of suffering from overtraining syndrome – a difficult condition to recover from.  Likewise with teaching, if we’re not careful about creating some balance in our lives, we are at risk of teacher burnout.  This condition isn’t fun for you or your students and is also very difficult to recover from.

Remember to take care of yourself this year.  Pack a healthy lunch, pause during your hectic day just to breathe, and maybe even enjoy a nice glass of red wine at the end of your day.  I’d say you deserve it.