Series Introduction

This series of three blogs will progress from establishing a deep understanding of scaffolding to suggesting specific strategies for developing and implementing effective scaffolds in the classroom. In this blog post, we will use the fundamentals of scaffolding in order to review them. See if you can determine how the development of this post provides purpose, explains expectations, increases independence, and motivates mastery of scaffolding.

You likely have a clear understanding of what scaffolding is (an intentional system of supports to facilitate student independence) and what scaffolding isn’t (differentiation or reduced rigor intended only for struggling students). But you might still have lingering questions about how to best implement scaffolding in the classroom. Reviewing the fundamentals of scaffolding will help you internalize its principles and better plan authentic, relevant scaffolds for your students.

Fundamentals of Scaffolding

  • Provide Purpose 
    • Help students understand where they’re headed and why it matters.
    • Provide clear instructions (oral, written, and visual) for students to create quality products that demonstrate mastery of concepts being taught.

Like this: Provide examples of student-created products for students to examine in detail. Encourage students to identify and explain how the samples exemplify the instructions provided to complete the activity. Remember, the goal here is to ensure students know “where they’re going.”

  • Explain Expectations
    • Provide students with oral and written steps, procedures, and norms for completing the activity. For example, ensure that students know where to locate materials needed to complete the activity, what steps should be completed prior to moving to another component of the assignment, and whether it is acceptable to ask a classmate for help.
    • Offer scoring criteria and rubrics to explain and clarify expectations.
    • Guide students to develop personal progress charts or checklists to ensure students understand the expectations of the assignment.

Like this: Before independent work begins, ask students to explain, in their own words, what they are expected to do and how they are expected to do it. This simple practice will allow you to determine what they understand about their expectations and to fill any gaps in understanding. Remember, the goal here is to ensure students know “how to get there.”

  • Increase Independence
    • Monitor students to determine their understanding of new skills and concepts.
    • Gradually remove scaffolds by providing what students need but only when they need it.

Like this: Provide a general outline for a writing assignment to scaffold from the start. Ask small groups or pairs of students to develop their own outlines for writing as an intermediary step. Finally, require students to generate outlines of their own. Doing so increases their ability to transfer the skill to other writing assignments across the curriculum. Remember, the goal here is the “gradual release.”

  • Motivate Mastery
    • Inspire students to strive (and subsequently succeed) by motivating them to master challenging skills and concepts.
    • Provide personalized scaffolds, such as individualized instruction, immediate feedback, and recognition of progress.

Like this: Identify students who are struggling to master a specific component in a broader concept. Provide a scaffold, such as a sentence frame or sample outline, to support students in their understanding of that particular component. Encourage students to focus their attention on mastering the specific component, providing immediate constructive feedback, while incorporating the component into the broader concept. Remember, the goal here is to inspire students to strive for mastery.

Providing purpose, explaining expectations, increasing independence, and motivating mastery will lead students to positive learning outcomes. Simply stated, scaffolding supports student success!