Monday, June 16, 2014

Differentiating Instruction: Bridging v/s Building Schema

What an amazing summer here in Tennessee! Lots of warm weather and professional development. Okay, not everyone saw that coming. It is true though!

Thanks to a fabulous group of k-2 teachers, we have had lots of conversation about what constitutes effective differentiation instruction (DI). Differentiation is the artful element of teaching.  How is it implemented? What does it look like? What does it sound like?  We as educators must have a well developed understanding of this crafty piece of our pedagogy.

"...a teacher who is comfortable and skilled with the use of multiple instructional strategies is more likely to reach out effectively to varied students than is the teacher who uses a single approach to teaching and learning. Teachers are particularly limited when the sole or primary instructional strategy is teacher-centered (such as lecture), or drill-and-practice (such as worksheets)."
Leadership for Differentiating Schools & Classrooms
by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Susan Demirsky Allan

With that said... my colleagues and I are focusing on math intervention. We have been closely examining what the three tiers of math look like in our k-2 classrooms.  Bridging and Building Schema are two methods of DI that we have been struggling to define in the context of mathematics instruction.   Bridging as a method of differentiation is a new label for our collective group. Building Schema on the other hand is a more comfortable term, because of it's close association with English Language Arts instruction.

Building Schema is the building of relationships among concepts, making connections across experiences. Here, DI is implemented in the form of lessons designed by the teacher to draw attention to relationships across concepts. Students develop understanding of connections among concepts from their experiences through out a given lesson. This is student centered learning.

Bridging (our new term) is explicit intentional instruction or movement by the teacher. The teacher is actually providing a scaffold, a link to a concept. This may occur as a verbal suggestion (ex: reference to prior knowledge, rephrase using simpler examples), or a tool such as a table or graph.   The teacher is intentionally leading students to a conclusion. The art of differentiation is to determine when bridging is beneficial. When utilizing bridging, it is important to think ahead, consider the end goal of the lesson.  Will explicit references give students the leg up that they need to reach the desired conclusions and maintain ownership of the learning? 


When considering Building Schema as a DI method, it is the careful planning of lessons with students as the driving force for making connections  across concepts.   Bridging in this context is an explicit, teacher initiated prompt used to scaffold learning.

What will this look like in a classroom?

All students will have the opportunity to participate in activities designed to Build Schema.  Meaning that,  a lesson is designed with the intention of leading students to the upper level of Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).  Students that enter a task/lesson in the upper ZPD will gravitate towards building relationships across concepts. The teacher's role in this instance is to facilitate, check for understanding, and use advancing questions.  
Bridging will be used when students just aren't quite there. Students that require bridging or explicit guidance are entering a task/lesson in a lower level of the ZPD.  Well designed lessons allow for this, however, students entering the ZPD at a lower level will most likely require scaffolding.  This scaffold may take the form Bridging.  When Bridging, teachers will give students a reference point to get them over the hump and heading toward the main skill/concept of a lesson.      

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