Learning is lifelong and students need support as they gather knowledge and skills. This can be done through scaffolding instruction. There were times in my earlier years of teaching that I didn’t use scaffolding in my instruction. I struggled to make sure all of my students were learning and understanding specific concepts and skills in my lessons. Never again…. it’s time to scaffold instruction!


What is scaffolding instruction?

Scaffolding is not just useful for building a house. It’s also useful for building up your students’ knowledge and confidence. If you’ve seen scaffolding on a construction site, you’ll know that its job is to hold up an unfinished building as it gains strength and support. Eventually, the building should stand on its own. In education, scaffolding instruction is systematically building upon students’ prior knowledge or experiences as they learn new skills and providing support along the way. Teachers, it’s our job to provide that support until a student masters a particular skill and can stand alone, successfully completing the process or sharing information independently.


What is the pedagogy behind scaffolding?

The theory behind instructional scaffolding is that students need help and support from those with more knowledge or skills to learn a particular concept or to gain mastery. While some theories of learning and development espouse that students can learn best by independent discovery, scaffolding disagrees. Scaffolding often focuses on students who currently have lower levels of knowledge who are helped by both peers and teachers, esentially working with someone more knowledgeable to expand their own knowledge through collaboration; however, I believe all students benefit from scaffolding.


Is scaffolding a new concept?

No, scaffolding isn’t a new concept. It’s been around since ancient times. Think about those master craftsmen and their apprentices from centuries past! Scaffolding was the primary way to learn any trade or skill. Russian educator and psychoanalyst Lev Vygotsky made scaffolding a popular educational method in the 1930s. His theory of scaffolding included the “zone of proximal development”, the set of skills or knowledge a student can’t quite reach independently, but ones they could master with support. The zone of proximal development focuses on the skill level just above the student’s current range, which is what good teachers prioritize as well. We don’t want to set the bar so high that reaching for it becomes an exercise in frustration. We want to set reasonable and attainable milestones that students will reach with our help.


Should we teach like a buffet?

In education, it’s wise to make your teaching like a buffet, as opposed to a set menu. There is definitely a place for constructivism, discovery education, and scaffolding, as well as many other theories and methods in your buffet. Scaffolding has been shown in various studies to be one of the most effective teaching methods, and there are several ways to utilize it in the classroom. Since each child has a different zone of proximal development, contingent support is a key to scaffolding. In layman’s terms, that simply means providing support as needed, if the situation warrants it.


Do all students need scaffolding?

You’ll find some students require a lot of scaffolding for math, but little in language arts or vice versa. Some students require a lot of support in general, while others learn with minimal help. I think when teachers provide scaffolding instruction to all students, and also give struggling students additional support, they have the best chance of ensuring that all students grasp the concept of a lesson.


Learn ways to scaffold in this post:  How to Effectively Scaffold Instruction