Scaffolding, standards vs skills, Webb’s, and Bloom’s… If you’re an educator you’re somewhat familiar with this jargon as it relates to how learners think. Most educators do not challenge the fundamental constructivist concepts of cognitive scaffolding. Essentially, the theorists tell us that all learners will pass through a set pathway of knowledge dimensions, starting with surface and progressing to deep. But the more I reflect on my own thinking and learning (and have come across the SOLO framework and John Hattie’s work), the more I challenge the concepts that have been so ingrained into my pedagogical training.

Let’s take the following scenario (this actually happened). Yesterday I went sledding with my kids. After sledding, I asked them a few questions about their experience. Based on their prior experiences and learning, my kids have a grasp on the concepts of friction, gravity, and energy. As we sled down the hill, a number of connections may be made, but the meta-connections were possibly missed, as is their significance in relation to how friction, gravity, and energy relate to sledding as a whole. My kids may understand all three components in isolation, but the understanding of each as a connected system may remain restrained. A number of connections are made but the significance of the three working in tandem is not purposefully connected.

At the end of our discussion, my kids were able to answer this question, “How do the factors of snow, the surface of the sled, and the height of the hill affect the distance the sled traveled?” They were not able to answer, “What is potential energy?” They were not able to answer this even though the latter question is considered “lower level” or less difficult by Bloom’s definition of complexity and difficulty.

They might have been able to answer this question if I would have provided additional support and probing regarding the word “potential.” But an even deeper understanding could be constructed by introducing these new concepts in relation to other parts of the system. The result would be an appreciation of the significance and contribution of the interconnection, integration, and interrelation of all significant concepts. Additionally, there would be a cognitive connection between remembering, application, and creation (using Bloom’s taxonomy). Eventually, generalizations could be made to other real world experiences (playing sports, riding a roller coaster, etc.).

Bottom line, I am questioning my own presupposition that “lower levels” prepare the way for “higher levels” of thinking. Remember that Bloom’s Taxonomy was created in an industrial age; An age of replication and predictability. Scaffolding from low complexity to high complexity could potentially create a more shallow depth of learning. Each cognition level works in tandem with the other. They are each necessary at some level of synchronous acquisition. They are interactive and stimulate one another. When we comprehend this interrelation, it leads us to push our own thinking about thinking. It leads us to a deeper recognition of our metacognition. And there is the potential that we become so situationally and metacognitively aware that we can discern the complexity of the learning while it unfolds.

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