Are your instructional strategies supportive or authoritative? Research from Northern Illinois University has shown that learning environments that provide solid support systems are more effective than those in which students are on their own. Scaffolding is a process by which you can make sure students are receiving the instructional support they need in their education without being overbearing. If teachers are over-supportive, then students don’t develop the necessary skills for effective independent learning. Scaffolding techniques allow teachers to be hands-on when new material is introduced, and then gradually transfer responsibility to the individual as the information is mastered.

The Benefits of Instructional Scaffolding

Instructional scaffolding opens up pathways for individual student discoveries. When students are able to reach important educational milestones on their own, without being explicitly instructed, they will experience the joy of learning and reinvest themselves in their schoolwork. It is the difference between being told what the Pythagorean Theorem is and being led to discover the mathematical relationship of the sides of a right triangle. This method of independent learning engages students in the educational process by requiring them to become active participants in learning rather than passive recipients.

In order to help students independently achieve certain educational goals, there must be a supportive learning environment in place. A classroom in which students are allowed and encouraged to ask questions and support their classmates promotes a higher degree of self-directed learning. Providing this kind of learning environment is often the goal of many teachers, though it can be difficult to achieve. Using various instructional scaffolding tools will go a long way toward fostering a constructive space where students are free to make discoveries.


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Instructional Scaffolding Tools

When developing an instructional scaffolding approach, it is helpful to think of the building tools from which it takes its name. In a construction context, scaffolding is a temporary structure that supports buildings and workers as an edifice is put together. Upon the project’s completion, the scaffolding is taken away and the free-standing building remains. In the same way, instructional scaffolding tools provide support while a student develops a certain knowledge base and is then taken away when it is no longer needed.

The Ellis & Larkin scaffolding model is one of the most commonly used frameworks for incorporating scaffolding tools into daily instructional strategies. The layout determines how to implement a chosen technique by proceeding in the following four phases:

  • The teacher does it.
  • The class does it.
  • The group does it.
  • The individual does it.

Breaking down tasks this way affords students a lot of support early on, and then gradually individualizes the practice until they are able to complete the task on their own.

This framework is great for determining how to proceed through daily lessons, but it may be helpful to underline specific scaffolding tools that can be used in the classroom.

Make It Visual

Graphic organizers and other visual aids provide great scaffolding for lessons. Modeling something is often more effective than explaining it verbally. As such, using Venn diagrams, flow charts, outlines, and other visual cues provides solid foundational support for key concepts.

Talk It Out

After you have explained a concept, encourage students to discuss it in small groups. As they talk through an idea they will develop a better grasp of it. Round out the activity by having students write down what they learned individually.

Pre-Teach Vocabulary

Expose students to new vocabulary terms early in the lesson so the words don’t get in the way of comprehension later. Any new content-specific words are best taught in context with the subject matter. Associating the words with graphic representations, showing examples and non-examples, using the words in sentences, and paraphrasing the meaning of the words are all vocabulary strategies that can be used to develop words and word meanings.

Applying scaffolding techniques to your instructional strategies is a fantastic way to inspire student learning through increased engagement.