Guiding students through the learning process toward greater understanding.
Scaffolding is an instructional practice where a teacher gradually removes guidance and support as students learn and become more competent. Support can be for content, processes, and learning strategies. This requires careful planning, initial assessment of students’ prior knowledge and monitoring of growth to determine which supports are needed and which can be removed. As a student grows, they begin more difficult challenges that require new supports that will eventually fade.
The goals of scaffolding are to increase student proficiency and develop their skills as self-regulated learners. This is achieved by providing an appropriate amount of instructional support based on student needs and context complexity. As students grow as learners, scaffolding can be changed, reduced or removed over time.
For example, one learning outcome of a biology class may be to label and describe the functions of a cell. To scaffold this information, the instructor first assesses students’ prior knowledge and chunks lessons into digestible bites. During class, students are provided with diagrams and guided notes. Students also have access to interactive 3D software that allows them to analyze cell components and their interactions. In the early stages of learning, students can use their notes and textbooks during formative assessments and assignments. They also receive both automated and instructor feedback on their submissions. Over time these scaffolds fade (for example: less instructor support, no use of notes on formative assessments) and students continue more independently.
Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is the difference between what students can do independently and with support. It is the additional space in which students can learn, practice and achieve what they would not be able to without additional support and guidance.
Teaching below the Zone of Proximal Development (see diagram) results in students reviewing mainly what they already know and practicing what they are good at, causing minimal learning. On the other hand, teaching only concepts students know nothing about leads to frustration and failure, limiting learning as well. Although the learning process is often accompanied by some level of confusion and initial failure, scaffolding is used to minimize unnecessary struggles to support student success. Teaching within the ZPD allows students to use their prior knowledge in meaningful ways while receiving guidance and practice opportunities to eventually reach the course’s learning outcomes independently.
Scaffolding can be implemented into your course using a variety of methods:
Scaffolding is a process that should be strategically embedded into both the design and instruction of your course. In many cases, it follows a similar progression as shown in the diagram below.
A variety of scaffolding strategies can be embedded into the overall course design or individual lesson plans. Others may occur during synchronous teaching and learning as opportunities arise. Although these strategies are categorized, they can be helpful in multiple areas.
|Unit and Lesson Planning|| |
|Instructional Practices|| |
|Monitoring Learning|| |
|Learning Activities|| |
Explicit instruction is a way to scaffold instruction by increasing student work through the following three stages:
The scaffolding model can also be accomplished in a flipped classroom setting using the following stages:
There are many ways to scaffold student learning throughout your course.
If students have culminating assignments, it is important to scaffold the steps that comprise the assignment. For example, if a research paper is due at the end of the semester, assign milestones such as “select a topic,” “conduct research,” “write a first draft,” etc. Then have students submit these components for feedback along the way. To help students complete each component, provide resources, examples or direct instruction. Other scaffolds for a large assignment might include peer feedback, checklists, or prompting questions.
Before an upcoming exam, review practice questions and provide suggestions about how, when, and what to study. Other scaffolds for exams include group study sessions, review sessions, sample questions, practice tests, and formative assessments leading up to the exam.
When introducing a complex topic, identify students’ prior knowledge. This pre-assessment should be ungraded and can be done easily using a classroom response system or even a piece of paper. From there, build on student’s prior knowledge related to the new concept, teaching it in chunks or “digestible bites.” Other scaffolds for challenging concepts include multi-media or visual support, vocabulary or cue cards, worksheets or graphic organizers, real world examples and group work.
Use this worksheet to develop a scaffolding plan:
Once you have completed this process for one component of your course, determine if there are other areas that might need a scaffolding plan.
When you have finished scaffolding content, the next step is to build in active learning.