Do you recall a time when you felt completely lost while learning something new? Or maybe you felt unprepared to tackle an important assignment? In either of those situations, you probably lacked the support, or instructional scaffolding, that you needed from your teacher.
Now that you’re a teacher yourself, it’s safe to assume that you don’t want your students to feel the way that you did. Below, we’re sharing some simple scaffolding strategies that you can use to better support your students’ learning.
What is Instructional Scaffolding?
Instructional scaffolding is a method where a teacher gradually reduces the amount of support given to a student as they master a new concept or skill. This method is based on Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky’s theory that optimal learning takes place within an individual’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).
The ZPD is the “space” between what a student is capable of achieving on their own and what they can do with support. To achieve the best results, you should tailor your lessons to take place within your students’ ZPD. A concept that’s too easy leads to boredom, while a concept that’s too difficult can cause frustration and discouragement. Aim for the Goldilocks concept of “just right” and help your students develop mastery over time using scaffolding strategies.
How is Instructional Scaffolding Beneficial for Students?
Much like scaffolding around buildings helps construction workers access higher elevations and supports them as they complete a project, educational scaffolds support learners as they reach higher levels of understanding. Instructional scaffolding makes learning new skills and concepts less intimidating for students, which in turn increases their confidence, motivation, and independence.
Now, let’s look at some simple scaffolding strategies that you should use with your students!
5 Scaffolding Strategies to Use with Your Students
There are many techniques you can use to support your students’ learning. Here are five instructional scaffolding strategies we suggest incorporating into your lessons.
1) Model What You Teach
People typically learn best by seeing or experiencing something rather than reading or hearing about it.
For example, think about when you learned how to ride a bike. Someone likely showed you how to do it and then held you up as you tried to balance and pedal like they did. But what if they would’ve just written out the steps or told you what to do and set you off on your own to figure it out? You might have gotten a few more skinned elbows or even given up entirely.
Learning new skills and concepts is a lot like riding a bike for your students. They’re doing it for the first time, and they’re probably a bit wobbly. So whenever possible, take the time to demonstrate exactly what you want them to do, then work with them until they feel comfortable doing it on their own.
2) Activate Prior Knowledge
For new concepts to sink in, they must be built upon existing knowledge.
Consider the bike scenario again. To teach someone how to ride a bike, you must expand on their understanding of what a bike is and how it works. So, before you introduce a new skill or concept, encourage your students to share their thoughts and experiences related to it. This will increase engagement and help them see the relevance in what they’re learning.
Some common scaffolding strategies that activate prior knowledge include:
At first, you’ll likely have to guide your students to make connections, but it’ll become second nature to them in time.
3) Use Visual Aids
As mentioned previously, people often learn better from seeing rather than hearing. That’s why visual aids are one of the most popular and effective scaffolding strategies.
Visual aids help students build upon their prior knowledge by providing additional context or support. You should use visual representations as much as possible to guide your students’ thinking. Some common visual aids include:
- Photographs and videos
- Charts and diagrams
- Graphic organizers
Think of visual aids like training wheels for riding a bike. As your students master a skill or concept, they’ll no longer need a visual aid to be successful.
4) Encourage Thinking Aloud
Thinking aloud is a scaffolding strategy that helps students form and process their thoughts while working on a new skill or concept. You can model this strategy by verbalizing your thoughts as they complete a task, such as converting a fraction into a decimal. Additionally, model good self-questioning by asking them open-ended questions that require more than a yes/no answer as they work, such as:
- What should you do first?
- Why did you choose to do that?
- How do you know if your answer makes sense?
Explain that these are the types of questions your students should be asking themselves when they think aloud. You can also ask them to talk you through what they’re doing or “teach back” to you once they arrive at a stopping point.
As your students gain confidence over time, encourage them to adopt inner speech rather than thinking aloud.
5) Break Up Lessons
Skills or activities that involve multiple steps can easily overwhelm students who are still mastering a new concept. Breaking up learning into chunks or small steps helps students feel less intimidated and more confident in their abilities.
Using checklists is another great way to support students as they work through the steps to complete a task. This helps narrow their focus to one thing at a time, steadily guiding them to success.
Gradual Release of Responsibility Framework
The Gradual Release of Responsibility model is commonly used as a basis for instructional scaffolding (otherwise known as the “I Do, We Do, You Do” model). It’s broken up into four steps:
- Modeling: Teacher demonstrates how to complete a task
- Guided Instruction: Teacher supports student as student completes the task
- Collaborative Practice: Student instructs the teacher how to complete the task
- Independent Practice: Student completes task independently
The goal of this framework is to gradually reduce the amount of assistance that your student needs to complete a task successfully. When using this model, be sure to assess your students consistently to determine whether you should move on to the next step, stay at the current one, go back to the previous step, or move on to a new concept.
Instructional scaffolding is critical to helping students become confident, successful, independent learners. These five scaffolding strategies should be incorporated into every lesson, as needed, until your student achieves mastery.