Scaffolding in Education

Scaffolding is usually a term used by the construction industry. However it has also been used by educators for over 15 years now. Scaffolding in education is a temporary support mechanism and is essential in teaching students new information. It consists of examples and instruction given by the teacher, guided practice with students and eventual mastery of a skill.
The concept of scaffolding originates from Lev Vigotsky’s theory, the “zone of proximal development.” Scaffolding is defined as what a child can do alone and what he can do with the help of an experienced adult.
What Is Scaffolding?
A “scaffold” in this sense is used temporarily, then removed, to help pupils complete challenging tasks. It offers support until the student can stand alone with his own mastery of the skill involved.
Scaffolding in Education
Teachers use scaffolding as a tool daily in their classrooms. First they demonstrate a task or skill to students, then they provide assistance as the student works toward independent mastery.
Transfer of Responsibility
The ultimate goal of scaffolding in education is to transfer the responsibility from the teacher to the student. While students may need initial assistance, eventually educators want them to complete a task on their own.
Classroom Example
An example of scaffolding in the classroom setting could include a teacher first instructing her children on how to write a sentence using commas and conjunctions. As the week goes on, she has her students practice writing these sentences with peers, gives students feedback and eventually has the kids to complete this skill without her guidance.
Scaffolded instruction may best be understood as a sequence of prompted content, materials, and teacher or peer support to facilitate learning. The emphasis is placed on the teacher the student in the learning process with individual prompting and guidance, which is tailored to the specific needs of the individual student to offer just enough support (i.e. scaffold) for the student in a new task. The student is initially considered an apprentice in the learning effort; thus too little support leaves the student stranded and unable to comprehend the assigned work and complete the task, whereas too much support would prohibit the student from independently mastering the task. Therefore, the level of support must be specifically tailored to the student’s ever-changing understanding of the subject/topic/problem. Also, that support would gradually be withdrawn, allowing the student to eventually “own” the task performance.
 A Scaffolding Example: The Story Map

Name ______________________                                                           Date _______
Story Title: __________________________________________________________
The story setting was __________________________________________________
The main character was ________________________________________________
Other characters were _________________________________________________
The problem began when _______________________________________________
Then several important things happened ___________________________________
After that ___________________________________________________________
The problem was solved by ______________________________________________
The story ends when ___________________________________________________
Guidelines for Effective Scaffolding
  • Identify what students know: Effective scaffolding requires that teachers are cognizant of what a student already knows (background or prior knowledge) and of the students’ misconceptions.
  • Begin with what students can do: Be aware of individual student ability levels. Provide tasks which can be independently handled or with little teacher assistance to students with learning disabilities (LD).
  • Help students achieve success quickly: Accommodation is the word here. Help students with LDs in whatever little way so that they can cherish their success.
  • Help students to “be” like everyone else: Students with LDs have an overwhelming desire to be regarded like other students. Assure them assistance at the same time & provide it whenever required.
  • Know when it’s time to stop: Overkill erases. Continued drill and practice may not be effective. Ensure systematic review and purposeful practice.
  • Help students be independent when they have command of the activity: Effective scaffolding means that teachers need to listen and watch for clues from their students as to when teacher assistance is, or is not needed. Obviously, teachers do not want students to fail, but they should not allow students to become too dependent on the teacher. Teachers need to help their students gradually move from teacher assistance to student independence as students demonstrate command of the task or activity.
Source of the example: Differentiating Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities: Best Practices for General and Special Educators by William D Pender