Lessons from “Bean Dad” about Scaffolding

John Roderick, AKA Bean Dad (via Maximum Fun Network)

A BIT OF CONTEXT

John Roderick is the lead singer of the Long Winters and a podcaster, appearing on at least four separate podcasts at the time of writing. He took to Twitter one chilly January day to describe an experience with teaching his daughter how to open a can of baked beans.

Ask not for whom does the bean tolls; IT TOLLS FOR THEE! Photo by Tanushree Rao on Unsplash

SCAFFOLDING DEFINED

What makes some good educational moments is scaffolding, the oft-touted metaphor that teachers and administrators love to whip out to sound smart and with it. But what is scaffolding? Where did it come from? And why did John Roderick, the Bean Dad, fail to use it effectively in his story?

  1. Student ownership of the learning event
  2. Appropriateness of the learning task
  3. Structured learning environment
  4. Shared responsibility
  5. Transfer of control
Can we just eat? We’ve bean at this for so long! Photo by Debora Cardenas on Unsplash

PART 1: STUDENT OWNERSHIP OF THE LEARNING EVENT

This is defined by Applebee, briefly, as the task allowing for learner contributions. In a formal learning context, it means not to just lecture at your students without allowing them to ask questions, discuss what they are learning, solve a problem related to the lecture, and so forth.

PART 2: APPROPRIATENESS OF THE INSTRUCTIONAL TASK

Here, this means that the current task that is being learned should build upon what the learner already knows. The task should also be just difficult enough to allow for new learning to happen. So, is it appropriate to go from zero to bean can in a single lesson?

Bean Dad has since apologized. Heinz-sight is 20/20, they say. Photo by Rob Coates on Unsplash

PART 3: STRUCTURED LEARNING ENVIRONMENT

Here’s the big one: This means that there is a natural progression of the language used and sequencing of the task, presenting the learner with helpful strategies and approaches to help solve the task. As seen in the critique for Part 2, Bean Dad skipped all of the instructions and assistance and instead waited for the conclusion of an opened can.

Show her the secrets of opening a can? His daughter had no hope of him spilling the beans on that one! Photo by Tijana Drndarski on Unsplash

PART 4: SHARED RESPONSIBILITY

This is instructional interaction: The teacher and the student are working together to solve the task. They are collaborators, on the same team.

PART 5: TRANSFER OF CONTROL

Eventually, as the student begins to internalize the methods and approaches, the teacher eases up their assistance and allows the learner to have more control and, ultimately, become more competent.

It may not be a cold day in Hell, but it certainly is chili! Photo by P.O.sitive Negative on Unsplash

TL;DR (OR, THE SUMMARY)

So, what can we learn from Bean Dad? Here’s a shortlist of takeaways for you all to chew on:

  1. If your learner doesn’t have much background, you have to help establish that background before you can get anywhere with the present task.
  2. Make sure the task is within the realm of reason, given the demands of that task and the background knowledge of your learner.
  3. Learning is a process. Take time to structure that process for better results.
  4. Learning is a team effort. You are a collaborator with your learner, not an overlord or overseer. Get your hands dirty and get involved in a meaningful way!
  5. Pull back your assistance based on how well your learner is doing. When they are ready to fly, be aware of that and let them soar. If they’re not ready, keep helping them.
  6. Buy beans in a bag and cook them yourself.

SOURCES

Applebee, A. N. (1986). Problems in process approaches: Towards a reconceptualization of process instruction in A. R. Petrosky and D. Bartholomae (eds.) The Teaching of Writing. 85th Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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Adam Garnica

Adam Garnica

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Professional educator, linguist, educational technologist, and lifelong learner.