What is Scaffolding in Education?

Adding Vygotsky Scaffolding to Your Teaching Strategies

Have you ever watched a building getting repaired or built?  The men and women working on that project need the support of scaffolds to get the job done.  Without the proper support, those folks would find the job much more difficult.  Try to keep that in mind as you consider how educational scaffolding might be put to use in your classroom.  Scaffolding in education occurs when a single more knowledgeable person, usually an adult, helps a learner with the support they need to move forward. In the classroom, this means the teacher is there to support the student’s development by providing structures for that student to reach the next stage or level of learning. It is important to remember that Instructional Scaffolding is not needed for every student for every task. Scaffolding needs to be provided only when needed, to the students who need it.

Lev Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist, never used the term scaffolding; but his Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) seems to have led to the idea of scaffolding in education. Zone of Proximal Development is the difference between what a student can accomplish with help and what they can accomplish without help. Vygotsky’s ZPD changes levels, starting with a student who can complete a task but only when given structured guidance. It continues until a student can complete a task completely on their own. Vygotsky wrote in 1934, What the child can do in cooperation today, he can do alone tomorrow.

Four key elements in educational scaffolding are:

1. Common Goals Having a common goal allows combined ownership of the task.

2. Ongoing Diagnosis and Adaptive Support As a teacher, one must be constantly evaluating and changing what does not work.

3. Dialogues and Interactions The learner must be an active participant in the learning process. Students should take turns leading discussions and engaging in monitoring strategies.

4. Fading and Transfer of Responsibility Educational Scaffolding should lead to a reduction of support so that the learner is in control.

Scaffolding in Education Examples

There are an abundance of strategies to incorporate educational scaffolding available to teachers. Many of these ideas may be in use in yourscaffolding in education classroom already. Several teaching methods that are easy to incorporate into the classroom are listed below. Most of the scaffolding techniques can also be used for differentiating instruction in the classroom.

Show and Tell * Fishbowls – This is a method of class discussion. A small group of students discuss a topic in the middle of the circle or the “fishbowl”. The rest of the class sits around them creating the “fishbowl.“ Students in the center must be knowledgeable about the topic. Students sitting in the outside circle see how their peers think and learn from a variety of people, instead of just the teacher. * Show a Product/Outcome – The teacher shows a completed product or shares the outcome that they want to see at the end of a project. This allows the students to see what is expected of them.

Connecting To Prior Knowledge * It is important to see what students know before starting a lesson. If a teacher is discussing farms and a student has never seen a farm or heard about a farm then they cannot relate to the topic. That teacher may have to go over farm vocabulary before beginning the lesson. Also, if a student has visited a farm every summer they can then help the teacher explain to the other students what a farm is.

Talk Time * Think-Pair-Share – This is a simple and effective teaching method that gets students to think and explain what they have learned. A teacher starts by providing think time and questions. Students think about the answers to the questions. They then are paired with another student. Students can work with the person next to them, in front of them, or behind them. Once they are partnered up, the students share their thoughts and answers to the questions provided. Finally, the group comes back together and shares one of their ideas or answers. This holds all students accountable because they know they must supply an answer and they do not know what question they must answer. It also allows students to hear other ideas and answers. * Turn and Talk – This is similar to think-pair-share, there is only one difference. Students are given a question to answer, whether it be during a reading story or in the middle of a science project, they then turn to their neighbor and share their answers briefly. After a moment is given to answer, then the answer is given by one student or the teacher.

Vocabulary Pre-Teach * It is best to pre-teach vocabulary in context to what your students already know. Use pictures to introduce vocabulary words, allow student to draw pictures or symbols to represent the word, discuss what the students think the word means, and finally read the dictionary definition to compare to what students already know.

Visual Aides * Graphic Organizers – help to guide and shape thinking so that student’s can apply what they know, also allows a student to visually represent their ideas in an organized manner * Pictures and Charts – Using these instructional tools give students a visual representation of what they are learning about. When starting a unit on the South Pole, show pictures of the land and the animals that live there. Charts of temperatures can show children how cold it really is compared to what they are accustomed to.

Think Time * After reading information, allow students a moment to think about that information. Then, ask a question. Make sure you have thought up the questions ahead of time, and make sure they are specific and open-ended not answered in one word. After asking the question, pause. Give students think time, even higher functioning students need time to process what is being asked of them. Finally, allow a student to answer the question. If it seems like students do not grasp the concept being discussed, allow discussion time amongst your classroom.

Break Work Into Steps * It is important for some students in your class to have their work broken into smaller chunks. This is also referred to as chunking. A teacher can give a student a paragraph to read and then one or two comprehension questions, instead of a whole story and fifteen questions to answer. Another way to break work into steps is to lay out step by step the process of a project. A student may have to only turn in their idea the first day, then they may need to do the first step in the project instead of the first three steps everyone else has to do.

More Teaching Strategies

Following the steps below is another way to incorporate scaffolding into your instruction.

1. Teacher Does – This is when the teacher models the task, and the teacher should “think aloud” to let the student see the thought process.

2. Class Does – The class works together with the teacher. Student offer suggestions, the teacher does the actual work, and finally the students copy what the teacher has done.

3. Group Does – Students work with a partner or a small group to complete the task.

4. Individual Does – Students complete the task on their own.

Pros and Cons of Scaffolding Instruction

There are both pros and cons to scaffolding in the classroom. Some of the challenges are; teachers need to give up control at some point, limited time to implement, not many examples are available, and the potential for assuming the wrong ZPD of a student. A few of the pros are; individualized instruction, differentiates instruction, engages the learner, and motivates the learner.

Scaffolding’s dictionary definition is: a temporary structure for holding workers and materials during the erection, repair, or decoration of a building. Scaffolding is the same for the students in your classroom. It should be a temporary structure to support your student while learning a new concept, until they reach a level of mastery. There are many other approaches to scaffolding that you can try depending on the subject you are teaching. Remember that scaffolding is an instructional tool that allows a student to receive support and guidance from a more knowledgeable person to reach a stage or level of understanding how to complete a task on their own without assistance.

More Teaching Resources for Scaffolding in Education

I hope that this post gave you some good ideas for how to start using scaffolding in the classroom. Use your imagination and look for appropriate times to offer the support that your students need. Here are a few more resources from Amazon that you might also want to check out and put to use in your classroom.

Thank you for visiting. Please take a look around to find more differentiation strategies that you can use in your classroom.

I hope that you found something useful here.  If you are looking for a more scholarly discussion of scaffolding, you might want to read this.  Hurry back if you do!

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3 Responses to What is Scaffolding in Education?

  1. Louisa M says:

    Thank you for writing this and for giving examples that can easily be put to use. Now that I have started implementing some of these techniques in my classroom, the students are showing a renewed interest in learning. To be honest, it also seems to make the time fly by in class for both the students and myself. Of course the most important thing is that the kids who need extra support are getting it.

  2. MH says:

    I’m on my dissertation writing on teachers’ scaffolding in teaching high school chem now. I would appreciate very much if you could help me make a meta analysis on scaffolding for my Review of Literature part. I don’t have money at all. I’m doing this on my personal expenses. THANK YOU VERY MUCH, if you could of help to me, generous heart. Again thank you very much. Pls make this anonymous thanks again

    • Chris says:

      Hi MH. Are there any high school chem teachers out there who are willing to share their experiences with scaffolding?

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