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Scaffolding in Education

As one of the first teaching strategies you should apply to your students, scaffolding is a vital part of the lesson plan process.

Providing students with the tools they need for better understanding, and offering them a more effective way to learn, scaffolding is the starting point to effective teaching, and is more than worth the time investment.

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What is scaffolding for education?

If you’re a teacher, then you’ve likely heard of scaffolding lessons. If you haven’t, it’s a tool that originated in the 1960s, referring to a process in which teachers demonstrate or model the way to correctly solve a problem, before stepping back and allowing students to solve the problem for themselves. By providing support while students learn a new process or way to solve a problem, instead of asking for the student to copy exactly what is dictated in a book, students are far more likely to be able to use the knowledge they gain independently, following the lesson.

For students, this manner of learning through positive interactions and building knowledge through images, actions, and language can be vital to their success. But for many teachers, who have plenty on their plates already, scaffolding just might not hold the priority it should. But for teachers that don’t put this tool to work, teaching new concepts or solving problems with students can soon become messy. Much like teaching students to ride a bike without using training wheels first.

Applying scaffolding to the classroom

As teachers, it’s a must not only to ask a student to do something, like write an essay or solve a distinctive problem, without providing them with the tools to meet that challenge and succeed. Starting with the information on what to do, and how to do it, should be the first step. This is what scaffolding provides to students, helping them to succeed in the long term by encouraging independence and learning by example.

Applying scaffolding to the classroom is an easy task if done correctly. Integrating it into your lessons planning as one of the first strategies used, this method is particularly useful when it comes to understanding new topics and building on existing concepts. For example, when starting a new chapter in a book for English class, you could preview the chapter, read some of the critical vocabularies that feature or even read small parts of the section as a class.

These tools provide students with the practical knowledge to continue learning independently, by showing them the way to do so – as well as the tools to help them succeed and build upon the knowledge they already have.

If integrating scaffolding into your classroom sounds like the ideal solution, then these five techniques will provide the guidance you need to give scaffolding a go with your students:

1. Demonstration and modeling in teaching

For many children, having a visual aid helps them to remember something far better than simply hearing about it. One example of this is show-and-tell; with some adults still able to remember the items their fellow students brought in to share many years later. Scaffolding follows this same principle, with demonstrating and modeling behaviors and actions students need to take as one of the primary components.

So, how exactly can a teacher model something to their students?

Here are a few tips to demonstrate effectively:
  • Use the ‘student fishbowl’ method, the class forms a circle around the middle of the room, with students in the ‘fishbowl’ in the middle demonstrating something for the group around the outside
  • Model exactly what you want, and how a task will look when completed, before assigning any task, project, or activity. Teachers can even provide students with a rubric, which they can follow, so the students know exactly what to expect.
  • The ‘think aloud’ strategy can be a vital part of a demonstration, in which the teacher says each action as they complete them – in other words, saying the thought process as they are carrying out a specific action or task. This provides excellent context clues to students to help them make better sense of how to achieve their final goal.

Utilizing these techniques provides an excellent start to the scaffolding technique, and covers all the basics needed to start seeing an impact. For a teacher, getting into the habit of these processes can make all the difference to their students continued learning and ability to build on existing knowledge.

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2. Utilize existing knowledge

The most powerful tool a teacher can use is the existing knowledge of their students. By tapping into that prior information and knowledge, students will have an easier time connecting to what they are learning. This is especially applicable when encouraging students to share ideas and experiences and interact with ideas and concepts. If students are struggling with this connection, the teacher can provide prompts and guidance to help them to relate.

This scaffolding technique is ideal for the introduction of new tasks and concepts in the classroom.

3. Learn cooperatively

Cooperative learning is vital for many teaching styles, and it’s no exception when developing scaffolding techniques for students. Valuable additions to planning include structured student discussions such as numbered heads, as well as turn-and-talk or even think-pair-share.

This provides students with the time and space to process and absorb knowledge from different sources, and provides teachers with an excellent way to monitor and help students struggling to connect with their learning.

4. Include visual support and aids

Visual support is a vital element for the use of scaffolding in the classroom. Anything from images to organizers, charts to illustrations can provide a visual cue for learning, and an additional tool for teachers. The purpose of visual aids is to help students to gain a clear representation of what they will learn, while the inclusion of graphic organizers offers a direct way for students to examine and organize thoughts and ideas physically.

These resources are excellent guides to help students think through a process, and are helpful when it comes to more challenging concepts or information.

5. Keep checking

The use of scaffolding in the classroom is no good if that plan isn’t followed up with feedback. Teachers can provide students with time to think to help check for understanding, a strategy that’s particularly vital for new ideas or concepts. Following a pause to allow information to be absorbed, the teacher can use strategic questioning with typically open-ended questions to ascertain a students level of understanding.

If your class as a whole is having issue correctly answering or understanding problems, this indicates a need for further understanding. For individual students who struggle, this technique allows the teacher to work with those students to bring their knowledge up to the same level.

Plenty of scaffolding techniques can be applied to the classroom, allowing students to gain and understand knowledge more effectively. Not every class is the same, however, so it’s worth being flexible with the techniques you use to find what methods are best for you.

Do you use scaffolding strategies within your class, or are you considering implementing more structured planning? Perhaps you’re struggling with specific student learning, and scaffolding seems like the perfect solution.