Executing a Lesson: Scaffolding and Universal Design for Learning


Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to incorporate all that I’ve learned at my Teaching Artist Training & Internship Program (TATIP) residency.  I created a lesson and co-taught with another TATIP intern named Erin.  Having observed incredible models for co-teaching these past several months—the partnership between Bianca and Scott, my CWP mentors, is absolutely seamless—I felt confident navigating a partnership with Erin. 

Our lesson began with a “Turn and Tableau” group activity, which Erin and I co-led.  This activity requires students to think on their feet and quickly form frozen images of each prompt with their bodies (i.e. ‘eating an ice cream cone’ or ‘firefighter’).

We then gave a brief introduction of our focus landmark, Poe Cottage in the Bronx, where Edgar Allen Poe lived at the end of his life.  We provided a visual of the cottage and brainstormed the meaning of ‘landmark’ as a group.  Erin and I got the impression that the students did not quite understand the idea of a landmark based on how we presented it. Perhaps we could have started by showing photos of the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, etc. to excavate its meaning before showing them Poe Cottage, a non-descript little house. 

Even though this small point of confusion did not derail our lesson, it still reminded me of the importance of scaffolding, a strategy that TATIP facilitators, Patti Chilsen and Renee Watson, explain is essential when lesson planning.  Scaffolding is the process of giving enough structure and parameters for individual activities so that instructions are clear and students understand expectations.  It also means sequencing lesson activities intentionally so that each activity prepares them for the next.  Scaffolding occurs on both the minute and the grand scale of a lesson and overall teaching path. 

We then transitioned into our main activity- passing out two lines of Poe’s poem “The Raven” to each table group and having them create a group tableau of the lines.  We were pleasantly surprised by the tableau building process for two reasons.  The first was how well the students understood the language of the poem.  When Erin and I designed the lesson, we were not sure if they would able to grasp the language well enough to translate it into a tableau, especially considering many of the students are Special Needs learners. 

However, they surpassed our expectations.  One of the groups had a line about a “chamber turning.”  I asked the group what that might look like and immediately, a boy jumped into a very intelligent tableau portrayal of that phrase. I was blown away.  The fact that these first graders were able to grasp such complex and heightened language was so exciting.  It reminded me why arts education is so important; simply reading the poem, they may not have been able to understand its meaning.  However, artistic strategies such as movement and building imagery made the poetry far more accessible.  

I recently attended a TATIP elective seminar surrounding the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework, a model that is incredibly informative for writing curriculum.  Its guidelines are intended to apply to all student demographics, whether they are Special Needs or General Education.  The first clause of its second tier suggests that educators “provide options for physical action” in order to “provide multiple means of action and expression.”  Our tableau activity was a perfect opportunity for that.

The second surprise was students’ success in working in groups.  With this particular Special Needs Inclusion class, we have seen conflict between students erupt easily.  If one student feels unheard, they often break down, either in a fit of tears or in an angry tantrum.  However, our students did remarkably well with collaborating, respecting each other’s ideas, and performing their own roles.  Even though this was not a conscious decision when planning our lesson, I wonder if the activity promoted self-monitoring, which is another suggestion of the UDL guidelines.  Section 9 of the guidelines is titled “Provide option for self-regulation.” Perhaps by giving students enough preparation and a feeling of safety, our lesson inspired students to self-regulate and cope with the stress of working in a group. 

The success of our lesson presentation and the students’ enjoyment were so encouraging. I’m also extremely grateful to be able to work with my mentors Scott and Bianca and that I got the chance to show them how much I’ve learned.

 –Ally Tufenkjian, Theatre Artist, TATIP Trainee