SAT Curriculum Teaching Principle #1: Confidence-Building Scaffolding

When the instruction team at ArborBridge set out to write our third version of our SAT curriculum, we wanted to do something different. Recent developments in neuroscience have given educators a deeper understanding into how students learn than ever before, and teachers have an increasingly growing number of tools at their disposal to maximize comprehension and retention for their students. Why should SAT prep focus on a series of tired tricks and strategies, presented in the same old way it always has, when we now know, as educators, how to do things better? There are a few ways ArborBridge’s cutting-edge curriculum has utilized some of the broader educational discoveries of recent years, the first of which is confidence-building scaffolding.

Confidence-Building Scaffolding

In all my years working as a tutor, I have yet to meet a student whose natural aptitude prevents him or her from scoring well on the SAT. Rather, years of believing that they are “dumb” or “bad at school” has led to a lack of the student’s belief in his or her own abilities, and oftentimes, a rejection of learning and schooling as a whole.

In my experience, the main difference between a "smart kid" and a "struggling student" is that the smart student looks at something they don't know how to solve instantly and thinks, "I am smart...let me read this again until I can figure out how to solve this" whereas the kid who struggles looks at something they don't know how to solve instantly and thinks, "I am dumb...I can't solve this".

A lot of education initiatives recently have been directed towards building confidence in students who struggled early on in their schooling, as oftentimes these students have just as much potential, but they just developed a little more slowly. So, by the time these students may have caught up developmentally (3rd/4th grade or so), they have already self-identified as being dumb and don't believe in their ability to learn new things.

The ArborBridge curriculum works to specifically target this issue by scaffolding our curriculum into levels. Students are never challenged more than one level above their current ability, so they never struggle or activate the impulse to give up. This doesn't, however, mean that the student is trapped at that level. A student who starts low in averages, for example, could start with Level 1 Mean Questions. This gives the student immediate success as he/she works through solving questions where they succeed at least 90% of the time. Once they have mastered that, they move up to Level 2 Mean Questions, with the same goal of succeeding at least 90% of the time, which is now possible because of the skills the student mastered in a safe, secure environment.

The chart below (which is included in every student score report) shows how we decide which level to start a student at. See how there is a large drop-off in percentage accuracy between the Level 2 and the Level 3 concepts? That means this student is great with Level 1 and Level 2 questions, so we should begin working with the student at a Level 3.

 Difficulty Level Graphic


Make sure to keep an eye out for the next teaching principle! 

Lisa McManus

About Lisa McManus

Lisa graduated from the Columbia School of Public Health where she finished a degree in sociomedical sciences after studying biology as an undergrad at Georgetown. At both universities, she completed theses based on education and pedagogy, conducting original research and teaching in low-income middle schools. After graduation, Lisa developed targeted curricula for small after-school programs.

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