Across school districts, in rural, suburban, and urban areas alike, all learners benefit from increased confidence. People achieve more when they feel good about themselves.
As an educator, you have most likely experienced the joy of seeing students’ faces light up when they have the “right” answer, or perhaps noticed students sit up a little taller when they like what they wrote on their paper, or received thanks because you explained the concept in a different way and now they “get it.” These are the moments we live for—when our students’ confidence is boosted and their learning outcomes visibly improve.
The concept of using scaffolds and supports to build confidence is similar to the use of training wheels for children learning to ride a bike, or of a parent standing nearby as a child walks across a balance beam. Our children have the ability to excel, and that little boost, structure, or support may be all they need to achieve at the next level and believe they can do it on their own.
The ACE strategy, which stands for Answer, Cite evidence, and Elaborate, provides the scaffolds students need to move up to that next level in their written and verbal expression. Recently, I had writing conferences with two very different types of learners during writer’s workshop. Both students came in with varying abilities and learning needs; but I was able to provide each of them with that little boost in confidence they needed to achieve at their next level. Here’s how:
Jorge was striving academically. He had been absent due to illness and was having trouble catching up on an informational essay the class had been working on. The topic was on how humans can communicate with their body language. He had some sentences written down in his body paragraphs, but as he was reading his piece out loud, he became confused about what he was trying to say. According to the writing rubric, he needed to cite evidence to support his claims, but he wasn’t sure if he had done that. While he knew the elements of ACE, he struggled to monitor and recognize them in his own writing. So I showed him how to analyze his writing and color code his topic sentence or answer (A) with green, the evidence he cited (C) with yellow, and his elaboration (E) with pink. After doing this, Jorge realized what was missing to make his paragraphs clear and effective—he was missing the yellow, or citing evidence from the text. We quickly reviewed some starters he could use to cite evidence, and then he got it. He was able to revise the remaining paragraphs on his own.
The ACE strategy is simply an organizing tool—a self-check for Jorge to see where he needed to revise, along with sentence starters to ignite the momentum. He sat up a little taller, said thank you, and left the classroom with a huge smile on his face—learning outcome improved, confidence built, student and teacher empowered.
Sandra was very bright and generally a linear thinker. The class was working on an essay for a great debate, in which they had to justify why their chosen state was better than all other states. As with most essay assignments, the rubric required students to support the claim with evidence and to explain that evidence. Being the linear thinker that Sandra was, she had fact after fact and piece of evidence after piece of evidence from the text as to why Minnesota was the best state to live in. When she had to identify how those facts connected to her thesis, she struggled to find the words and strategies to explain the relevance of her evidence. This is a more abstract skill to learn and apply for more literal, linear thinkers. To help, I showed her how to use the elaboration matrix outlined in the book ACE: Short-Response Writing. She loved the concrete names of the strategies and was able to apply and take off with whichever elaboration strategy seemed relevant to prove her point. I did not teach Sandra any new content knowledge, as she already had this. I simply provided a tool for her to feel good about how to structure her thinking. Having this concrete tool gave Sandra just what she needed to unleash the creative thinking skills she already had.
The beauty of the ACE strategy is that it supports students in the individualized way they may need to get that extra boost and feel secure in what they already know. At the heart of the ACE strategy is the belief that students already come to the table with knowledge, thoughts, and abilities.
For some, a blank piece of paper may be an exciting opportunity for creativity, while for others, it may seem daunting, and they hesitate to start. The ACE strategy offers flexibility and differentiation opportunities for both of these types of students.
As educators, we often ask ourselves, “What do our students need to feel safe?” We work hard to create positive classroom and school cultures where students feel safe to take risks and engage in the learning process. We should apply the same effort in every learning moment. Perhaps a sentence starter is enough to get the creative juices flowing. Perhaps a more structured sentence frame is just the support they need to feel safe to take a risk or go for it. Perhaps students need to utilize colors, or perhaps all they need is to be able to name what they have done to feel good about the strategy they used.
No matter where students are in their learning journeys, or what type of learning needs they have, the ACE strategy can provide just the right amount of training wheels or security for them to see and know that they can do it.