Let’s say you have two options: you can either learn something new or build on what you already know. For example, let’s say you’re already adept at drawing, and you’re considering learning to paint or learning to herd sheep. If you choose to learn to paint, you’d be starting with a basic understanding of form, line work, shading, and composition. You can use all of this knowledge as scaffolding as you learn to paint. If you chose to learn to herd sheep, you would be starting from scratch, memorizing all the new terms, learning about farm animals, etc. It would be a much more difficult skill to acquire!
Being surrounded by unfamiliar information can be overwhelming, frustrating, and feel like you’re being picked on for what you don’t know, and that’s assuming you’re interested and want to learn! For many students, learning is a frustrating and obligatory acquisition of loosely related facts. We at AJ Tutoring are proud to say that we’ve helped many such students. Read some results and testimonials here.
Pointing out flaws is no place to start teaching, so why are so many lesson plans built around what the students cannot do, with little regard to scaffolding?
Incompetence ≠ Motivation
It’s fair to say I am incompetent at herding sheep. I’m okay with that! My sheep herding incompetence has no negative effect in my life, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. Also, just because I don’t know how to herd sheep, that doesn’t mean I want to learn! If you forced me into a life of sheep herding, I would be neither happy nor motivated, and I probably wouldn’t be very good at it either! This is to say, not knowing how to do something does not mean that you have a desire to learn how to do it, and introducing children to learning by teaching them completely new things is not ideal. Learning things completely foreign is alienating. As Ayers (1993) says, “the goal may well be to make a more skilled and a better person, but the result would likely also be alienation, lack of interest, and failure” (p.43). Certain attempts to fix these deficiencies end in driving the student away from learning.
On the other hand, when one’s assets are nurtured, one is more aware of and confident in their own abilities. One could use that confidence to begin to tackle learning something entirely new, but it doesn’t work the other way around! Unfortunately, most school systems base the curriculum off of what the children do not know and have little or no experience with. Ayers (1993) says that “the curriculum is built on a deficit model; it is built on repairing weakness” (p.44, Ayers, William To Teach: the Journey of a Teacher) where it should be built on enhancing and expanding skills the children already have a significant amount of exposure to.
Lesson Plans and Growth Mindset
As the skeleton of what goes on in the classroom, lesson plans play a major part in whether or not the curriculum is built on a deficit model. Most lesson plans focus on a quantitative amount of what to learn, which places value in achievement. If achievement is valued over the learning process, a certain level of understanding is valued over understanding in general. Once a certain desired level of comprehension is achieved, there is no motivation to continue. To instill a growth mindset, a lesson plan should focus on how people learn and how the material is presented. That way, the students are more confident when they improve, and are more interested in continuing to pursue a topic, even when it is not required.