This series of three blog posts will progress from establishing a deep understanding of effective scaffolding to suggesting specific strategies for developing and implementing effective scaffolds in the classroom. In this post, we will look at the importance of incorporating scaffolding during lesson planning.

Before we start, let’s look at how the Fundamentals of Effective Scaffolding, introduced in the first blog post of this series, work together to support students as they attain independence.

Here’s an example from my 8th grade ELA classroom:

✔ Mentor text exemplifies the purpose of the assignment—to craft powerful imagery—and clarifies the expectations.

✔ Guided discussion provides students the motivation to master the writing skill.

✔ Model or sentence frame serves as a concrete scaffold to increase students’ independence in crafting imagery of their own

Using a mentor text that evoked powerful emotions through vivid imagery, I explained to a small group of students that they had that same power—the power to impact people’s feelings, thoughts, and beliefs—with their words. Depending on the level of support they required, students selected a model or sentence frame generated from the mentor text. Next, they chose an image they wished to create and used the model or sentence frame to craft their own compelling imagery. Eventually, the scaffold was removed, and students wrote original descriptive paragraphs to evoke strong emotions. I witnessed a transformation in my students and in their writing that day. Students become more engaged, put forth additional effort, and show enthusiasm for the task when they:

  • Have a purpose (to create evocative imagery)
  • Understand the expectations (based on an exemplar and a model or sentence frame used to imitate it)
  • Believe in themselves (because they know what they’re doing and how to do it)
  • Feel capable of mastering a skill (that they’re motivated to achieve)

Getting Started with Scaffolding

The key to providing effective scaffolding for students isn’t just posting a sentence starter. Each step of the lesson plan process—planning, instruction, and practice—is important to achieve the goal of scaffolded instruction: academic independence.

During Planning

To activate thinking surrounding scaffolding during lesson planning, ask yourself:

  • What makes this skill difficult for my students to master independently?
    • Gaps in content knowledge?
    • Unfamiliar vocabulary?
    • Inability to transfer prior knowledge to new learning?
    • Misconceptions about the task or concept?
  • What scaffolds do my students really NEED to master this skill independently?
    • Background knowledge?
    • Academic or content-specific vocabulary instruction?
    • Connections to prior learning?
    • Corrections of common misconceptions?

By taking the time to answer these questions during the planning process, you will readily recognize the supports needed for students to utilize the skill successfully. Based on your findings, you might:

  • Divide instruction into mini-lessons that provide ample background knowledge, academic and/or content-specific vocabulary instruction, specific direction in how prior learning connects and can transfer to new learning, and corrections of common misconceptions.
  • Create scoring criteria and/or rubrics that clarify student expectations.
  • Incorporate technology supports (or comparable print resources), such as hyperlinks that explain or describe concepts or that define vocabulary words necessary for comprehension.
  • Consider how to demonstrate the relationships between learned skills or concepts and new skills or concepts.

It’s sometimes difficult to get started when incorporating new practices in the classroom. When you consider the purposes and positive impacts of effective scaffolding during lesson planning, you can use scaffolds with confidence. In the next blog post, we will consider what to do during instruction to ensure students respond to the supports you’ve designed and implemented during lesson planning.