Scaffolding Young & Learners' Reading of Social Studies Text

Patricia G. Avery

Michael F. Graves

"A scaffold," explains Linda Anderson, "is a temporary and adjustable structure that allows the accomplishment of a task that would be impossible without the scaffold's support." Training wheels on a bicycle are a classic example of a scaffold.
Despite repeated and often successful efforts to improve textbooks and students' reading skills, reading expository material such as social studies texts continues to be a challenge for many elementary students.1 As a result, such procedures as K-W-L,2 pattern frames,3 the Directed Reading-Thinking Activity,4 and webbing5 have been developed to help students read and learn from difficult expository text. These techniques complement and support social science inquiry methods by, for example, prompting students to read to address specific purposes just as social scientists collect data to address specific research questions.6
Like these other reading techniques, the procedure discussed here-the Scaffolded Reading Experience7-helps students deal with challenging expository texts and supports social science inquiry methods. However, the Scaffolded Reading Experience (SRE) offers greater flexibility than many other techniques. The SRE provides a framework and a series of options from which you select those particular activities best suited to assist the group of students with whom you are working to understand, learn from, and enjoy a particular selection.

In the remainder of this article, we first describe the nature of scaffolding-the central concept underlying the SRE-and the SRE framework. Then, we illustrate the use of an SRE with a social studies text.

"A scaffold," explains Linda Anderson, "is a temporary and adjustable structure that allows the accomplishment of a task that would be impossible without the scaffold's support."8 Training wheels on a bicycle are a classic example of a scaffold. They are adjustable and temporary, providing the young rider with the support needed 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 once could be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for many youngsters. The scaffold, or training wheels, allows learners to accomplish a goal, to be successful at riding a bicycle, and to happily pedal their way into a wider world. We have found that building an instructional scaffold around texts is a powerful way to ensure a successful reading experience, one in which students achieve their goals and build positive attitudes toward reading.

The SRE Framework
As shown in Figure 1, the SRE framework includes two phases: a planning phase and an implementation phase. During the planning phase, teachers consider the students, the selection they are reading, and the purposes of the reading. Based on these considerations, the teacher selects those pre-, during-, and postreading activities that will lead to success during the implementation phase. In general, when working with less proficient students, more difficult selections, or more challenging purposes, more scaffolding is needed; less scaffolding is needed with more proficient students, less difficult selections.

Prereading activities prepare students to read the upcoming selection. They can serve a number of functions, including getting students interested in reading the selection, reminding students of things they already know that will help them understand and enjoy the selection, and preteaching aspects of the selection that students may find difficult. Prereading activities are particularly important because they in-crease the probability that the experience of reading will be enjoyable, rewarding, and successful. Prereading options for an SRE are shown at the top of Figure 2.

During-reading activities include both things that students themselves do as they are reading, and things that teachers do to assist students as they read. During-reading options for an SRE are shown in the middle of Figure 2.

Postreading activities provide opportunities for students to synthesize and organize information gleaned from the text, to fully understand and evaluate an author's message, to integrate newly learned information with existing knowledge, and to respond to the text in a variety of ways. They also provide opportunities for both teachers and students to evaluate students' understanding of the text and to plan additional learning activities as they seem warranted. Postreading options for an SRE are shown at the bottom of Figure 2.

In all, the SRE framework presents 18 possible activities, far too many to be used with a single selection. Remember, however, this is a list of options. From this set of possibilities, you choose only those that are appropriate for your particular students to read a particular text for a particular purpose.

An SRE for a Social Studies Chapter
Joy Hakim's 10-volume series titled A History of US represents a significant effort toward engaging middle-grade students in the study of the history of the United States. This series has received generally positive acclaim from students, teachers, and scholars.9 Yet even this text offers some challenges that are likely to be stumbling blocks for some young readers. For example, the chapter "Mom, Did You Vote?" in the volume War, Peace, and All That Jazz10 includes so many side bars, pictures, and inserts that students may be distracted from the main body of the text. Additionally, the chapter includes a number of irrelevant details that may inappropriately draw students' attention away from more important information. In the remainder of this article, we show how an SRE can be used to motivate and guide students as they read this chapter.

The hypothetical class we use in this example is composed of fifth graders. With appropriate scaffolding, all of the students should be able to read and learn from "Mom, Did You Vote?" Five of the students, however, read slowly; they will need some extra accommodation to succeed with the chapter. Our learner outcomes for the lesson are three-fold. Students should be able to:

(1)construct a timeline of important events related to voting rights in the United States, with a particular emphasis on women's suffrage;
(2)analyze the goals and activities of Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul in the women's suffrage movement and evaluate their legacies; and
(3)assess the importance of voting in a democratic society.
Prereading. Heather Powell walks into class and announces that the class has a decision to make: What should the class do for the Diversity Fair to be held at the school two months hence? Ms. Powell writes several previously discussed possibilities on the chalkboard (dramatic readings, murals, etc.), and asks each student to write on a slip of paper his or her choice. Then Ms. Powell walks around the room with a glass jar and collects votes from the 15 boys in the class; she deliberately walks past the girls. Several perplexed girls wave their hands, holding their slips of paper, and exclaim, "Ms. Powell! You forgot us!" Other girls frown, and one whispers loudly to her girlfriend, "What's she doing?"

Ms. Powell casually returns to the front of the class and says, "Hmmmm. Did I forget anyone?" A number of girls shout excitedly, "You forgot the girls!!!" In mock surprise, Ms. Powell says, "Oh, I guess I did forget the girls. Does that bother you Lucinda?" Lucinda re-

sponds, "YES! It's NOT FAIR! We won't have any say in the vote." Ms. Powell goes to a long strip of butcher paper that spans three-fourths of the front of the classroom and writes "1920" with a line extending in both directions (see Figure 3). She explains that prior to 1920, women did not have the right to vote in the United States. Under 1920, she writes "Women's Suffrage-19th Amendment."

On the timeline she is sketching, Ms. Powell includes other important dates in the history of U.S. voting rights, as well as the names of several key people and events mentioned in the text to provide a broader context for women's suffrage and to build text-specific knowledge (e.g., Susan B. Anthony's role at Seneca Falls in 1848).

At this point, Ms. Powell has engaged in a number of prereading activities: motivating the students and relating the material to their lives through a mock simulation, and preteaching concepts and building text-specific knowledge through the timeline.

Just before the students begin reading, Ms. Powell suggests two strategies to help them focus on significant material in the selection. First, she suggests they read the sidebars and picture captions: "One thing you'll see when you look at the chapter is that there are a lot of pictures and a lot of boxed material and information in the margins. I suggest you read all this material first, and then go back and read the main part of the text." Second, she suggests that the students definitely not try to learn all the names in the text (17 names are cited in five pages, clearly an overwhelming number for students). "Many of these people played an important role in the fight for women's suffrage, but the names I would like you to remember are Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul. These women were two of the primary leaders of the women's suffrage movement."

During Reading. During silent reading, Ms. Powell suggests that the students read for the purposes of identifying the goals Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul set, the political actions they took, and the short- and long-term consequences of those actions. She suggests that the students focus on the first two purposes and attend to the third if they have time. This easily crafted, guided reading activity helps students to focus on the main ideas presented in the text, provides an accommodation for the slower readers, and serves as a springboard for discussion after reading.

Postreading. After reading, Ms. Powell engages the students in a brief discussion based on the guided reading exercise. The students easily identify one of the goals of suffragists Anthony and Paul as gaining the right to vote, as well as noting the political activities in which they engaged (e.g., forming organizations, petitioning, marching). Ms. Powell asks her students to describe the accomplishments of the suffragists. What were the short- and long-term consequences of their actions? She wants the students to recognize that although Susan B. Anthony played a large role in the passage of the 19th amendment, she died 14 years before it was passed! As she explains that major social changes often require a long time, Ms. Powell goes to the timeline and writes several major activities in which Anthony and Paul were involved (see Figure 3).

Ms. Powell extends students' thinking by asking why people might want to vote. By making connections to the Diversity Fair vote at the beginning of the class, she elicits from students that voting is a form of influence and pow-

er. Moving along the timeline from 1920 to 1996, Ms. Powell says, "Be-

cause this is 1996, the votes of the girls in our classroom will be collected." She asks how the girls feel about the vote now, to which one responds, "A LOT BETTER! It wasn't fair before!"

Ms. Powell then poses the questions: " What if women didn't have the right to vote? Would it matter? What if no one in our country had the right to vote? What difference would it make?" She then displays data from the 1992 presidential election, indicating that only 61 percent of all eligible voters in the United States participated in the election. In order to demonstrate the importance of the percentages, she quickly approximates the number of students needed to make 61 percent and asks them to stand. She asks, "Who has more power-the group standing, or the group sitting? What might you say to those who do not vote?"

After a lively discussion, students choose from three activities designed to extend their understanding of the central concepts and ideas in the lesson. One group of students makes posters urging people to exercise their power and vote in elections; another group illustrates the important people, groups, and events on the suffrage timeline; and a third group reads prepared primary documents and biographical datasheets on Anthony and Paul and develops skits to dramatize the political activities in which they engaged. The next day, each group shares their work with the class.

Concluding Remarks
Using the SRE framework, Ms. Powell has involved students in the variety of activities shown in Figure 4. She has:

With the assistance of the SRE framework, Ms. Powell's students have achieved the content outcomes she set for them, and they have developed skills in chronological thinking, historical analysis, and historical issues analysis-all primary skills cited in the National Standards for U.S. History.11

Other texts and other purposes will, of course, lead to other collections of pre-, during-, and postreading activities, some of them less ambitious than those presented here. But in all cases, the options for scaffolding students' efforts are there, and wise selections among them can lead students to a fuller understanding of history, less piecemeal memory of the topics dealt with, and a better appreciation of the applications of history to today's world.

1. R.C. Calfee and C.L. Patrick, Teach our Children Well: Bringing K-13 Educa-

tion into the 21st Century (Stanford, CA: Stanford Alumni Association, 1995).

2. D. Ogle, "K-W-L: A Teaching Model that Develops Active Reading of Exposi-

tory Text," The Reading Teacher 39 (1986): 564-570.

3. D. Alvermann, "Strategic Teaching in Social Studies," Strategic Teaching and Learning: Cognitive Instruction in the Content Areas, edited by B. F. Jones, A. S. Palincsar, D. Ogle and E. G. Carr (Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1987), 92-110.

4. R. G. Stauffer, Directing Reading Maturity as a Cognitive Process (New York: Harper and Row, 1969).

5. Calfee and Patrick.

6. J. L. Irvin, J. P. Lunstrum, C. Lynch-Brown, and M.F. Shepard, Enhancing Social Studies Through Literacy Strategies (Washington, DC: National Council for the Social Studies, 1995).

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

8. L. M. Anderson, "Classroom Instruction," Knowledge Bases for the Beginning Teacher, edited by M. C. Reynolds (Oxford, England: Pergamon, 1989), 101-111.

9. "History as Story," Publishers Weekly 41 (August 30, 1993); M. Saxton, "The New History: Showing Children the Dark Side," The New York Times Book Review (November 13, 1994): 32-33.

10. J. Hakim, War, Peace and All that Jazz (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).

11. National Center for History in the Schools, National Standards for U.S. History (Los Angeles, CA: Author, 1994).

About the Authors
Patricia G. Avery and Michael F. Graves are professors in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at the University of Minnesota.