Scaffolding

Provide scaffolding during learning to help students work beyond their current abilities and learn more efficiently.

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Purposes of scaffolding

Scaffolding is a teaching method that involves gradually shedding the instructor’s assistance as students increase their understanding. Scaffolding serves a variety of purposes during learning, allowing the instructor to:

  • Provide support.
  • Model skills.
  • Share knowledge.
  • Solicit questions.
  • Adjust pace.
  • Teach strategies.

All of these will help students to eventually take ownership of their own learning and perform independently.

Scaffolding process

Scaffolding should occur at multiple places throughout the learning process. The following steps are one way of thinking about how to devise and incorporate scaffolding throughout.   

Steps in the scaffolding process: determine what students already know (prior knowledge); set a goal for learning (learning outcomes); plan instructional supports or how skills/strategies can be broken down; Implement lessons and monitor progress (formative assessment/feedback); fade support over time for students to become independently successful ; and continue building on content, monitoring, and providing feedback.

In the first steps we are concerned with understanding students’ prior knowledge (see Diagnostic Assessment), considering the learning outcomes we want for this audience, and then considering which scaffolds will help students reach these goals.

Scaffolding techniques

The following techniques are ways to incorporate scaffolding at three different points in the learning process.

Planning learning

During planning:

  • Intentionally plan and organize the learning process.
  • Divide instruction into mini-lessons or have periodic checkpoints.
  • Incorporate technology support.
  • Use rubrics to introduce and affirm expectations.
  • Check your “expert blind-spot” that might lead you to assume a level of understanding or automaticity that your students don’t yet possess.

Instructional practices

During instruction:

  • Build and activate background knowledge.
  • Provide multi-modal support.
  • Teach content, concepts, skills and strategies in digestible bites.
  • Support students through tasks they are not yet able to perform independently.
  • Appropriately pace lessons to guide students through new knowledge and concepts.
  • Provide explanations to support challenging processes.
  • Give multiple examples to expand or illustrate content.
  • Share out loud the thought and research process as you search for answers.

Monitoring learning

During practice:

  • Use techniques to keep students on target.
  • Include formative assessments and feedback.
  • Ensure students are making progress toward learning outcomes.

Scaffolding activities

The following are several activities to consider to help scaffold learning.

  • Advanced organizers to introduce new content or task.
    • Graphic organizers.
    • Templates.
    • Flow charts.
    • Outlines showing content organization.
    • Concept maps or mind maps that illustrate relationships.
  • Cue cards or question cards to facilitate discussion.
  • Sample problems to practice important concepts.
  • Periodic checkpoints to help students determine understanding.
  • Self-evaluations to reflect on learning.

Scaffolding model

One popular method for scaffolding is to begin by modeling (I do), then having students work together (We do), and finally attempting to succeed at the task on their own (You do).

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Instruction – “I do”

  • Modeling and thinking aloud is done by the instructor
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Guided Practice – “We do”

  • Students work together
  • Students and instructor work together
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Independent Practice – “You do”

  • Students work on their own

By modeling the task first, students are able to concentrate on how you go about a task without being distracted by trying to do it themselves. This is a high level of scaffolding. Next, during guided practice, difficulty is increased, but students receive scaffolding from the instructor and fellow students. Finally, as ability increases, scaffolding is removed and students attempt the task themselves.