The use of scaffolding instruction is similar to the scaffolding used in construction to support workers as they work in a specific task. These are temporary supports that assist students in accomplishing new tasks and concepts until they can master them on their own. Once a student is able to complete or master the task, the scaffolding is gradually removed and shift the responsibility of learning from the teacher to the student.

Scaffolding helps students to connect prior knowledge and experience with new information and ideas. Teachers use information from assessments of prior knowledge to plan a careful sequence of activities that continually links that knowledge and understanding to new knowledge and skill attainment. Teachers challenge students step by step with increasingly more difficult tasks and concepts to ensure they are continuously learning.

examples of scaffolding

- activating prior knowledge

- offering a motivational context to pique student interest or curiosity in the subject at hand

- breaking a complex task into easier, more "doable" steps to facilitate student achievement

- showing students an example of the desired outcome before they complete the task

- modeling the thought process for students through "think aloud" talk

- offering hints or partial solutions to problems

- using verbal cues to prompt student answers

- teaching students chants or mnemonic devices to ease memorization of key facts

- displaying a historical timeline to offer a context for learning

- using graphic organizers to offer a visual framework for assimilating new information

- teaching key vocabulary terms before instruction

- guiding the students in making predictions for what they expect will occur in a story, experiment, other activity

- asking questions while reading to encourage deeper investigation of concepts

- suggesting possible strategies for the students to use during independent practice

- modeling an activity for the students before they are asked to complete the same or similar activity

- asking students to contribute their own experiences that relate to the subject at hand

Why Use Scaffolding

When you incorporate scaffolding in the classroom, you become more of a mentor and facilitator of knowledge rather than the dominant content expert. Although scaffolding is often carried out between the instructor and one student, scaffolds can successfully be used for an entire class. More complex content might require a number of scaffolds given at different times to help students master the content.

Benefits of Scaffolds

Challenges students through deep learning and discovery

Engages students in meaningful and dynamic discussions in small and large classes

Motivates learners to become better students (learning how to learn)

Increases the likelihood for students to meet instructional objectives

Provides individualized instruction (especially in smaller classrooms)

Affords the opportunity for peer-teaching and learning

Scaffolds can be “recycled” for other learning situations

Provides a welcoming and caring learning environment

Challenges With Scaffolding

Planning for and implementing scaffolds is time consuming and demanding.

Selecting appropriate scaffolds that match the diverse learning and communication styles of students.

Knowing when to remove the scaffold so the student does not rely on the support.

Not knowing the students well enough (their cognitive and affective abilities) to provide appropriate scaffolds.

Scaffolding & Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development

Vygotsky defined scaffolding instruction as the “role of teachers and others in supporting the learners development and providing support structures to get to that next stage or level” (Raymond, 2000). "From a Vygotskian perspective, the teacher's role is mediating the child's learning activity as they share knowledge through social interaction" (Dixon-Krauss, 1996, p. 18).

Gradual Release Model of Instruction

The Ellis & Larkin scaffolding model is one of the most commonly used frameworks for incorporating scaffolding tools into daily instructional strategies. The layout follows four phases:

  1. The teacher does it.

  2. The class does it.

  3. The group does it.

  4. The individual does it.

Breaking down tasks this way affords students a lot of support early on, and then gradually individualizes the practice until they are able to complete the task on their own. This framework is great for determining how to proceed through daily lessons.

References:Alibali, M (2006). Does visual scaffolding facilitate students’ mathematics learning? Evidence from early algebra., K., and Pressley, M. (1997). Scaffolding student learning: Instructional approaches and issues. Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books.Piper, C. Teaching with Technology (2005). What is scaffolding?, J., and Smith, D. (1986). Extending children’s special abilities: Strategies for primary classrooms., V. P. (2004). Cognitive apprenticeship in educational practice: Research on scaffolding, modeling, mentoring, and coaching as instructional strategies. In D. H. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology (2nd ed.), (p. 815). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Johnston, S., and Cooper, J. (1997). Cooperative Learning and College Teaching. Vol. 9, No. 3 Spring 1997.Larkin, M. (2002). Using scaffolded instruction to optimize learning.