Teaching Tuesday: Scaffolding Instruction for the Classroom

Two young students working together in class

Have you ever asked your students to do an activity or demonstration of their learning, and they just sat there with confused looks on their faces? Have you ever reflected on a lesson and thought, “What went wrong?”

This is probably a case of forgotten scaffolding. Each lesson we plan and implement as teachers needs to not only have carefully curated student involvement, but also explicit instructions to clarify how students can reach the desired objective or goal.

When you scaffold learning experiences in your lesson, you are providing knowledge and skills in multiple formats that support students in progressively more independent practice activities. It may be small successful achievements you create for them to build up their confidence using the new knowledge, or it may be partially started routines enabling them to achieve success. For example, you may preview text with them, asking questions and showing illustrations, or discuss new vocabulary and terminology.1

We know from Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development we need to provide instruction that meets students where they are and transition them to skills and abilities just above what they can achieve independently.2 What we do to help them in that transitional process is using planned scaffolding techniques in the before, during and after stages of the lesson.

Before the Lesson

When you are ready to get started teaching new information to your students, you will first need to determine their current knowledge on the content. One way to do this is to ask them open-ended questions to encourage them to share related experiences or known facts. This not only helps you understand what they know, but it also gives you an idea of how you could apply the content to their lives.1 It may also help to lead this conversation by sharing an experience you have had that gives hints about applying the content, or that helps spark a memory one of the students may be able to retrieve.

During the Lesson

As students start to process the new learning, they will benefit from talking about what they are thinking. This is an optimal time to employ scaffolding strategies such as think-pair-share or turn-and-talk. Also known as structured discussions, this technique helps students apply academic vocabulary to listen and verbalize what they are thinking as they start to build connections to the new knowledge.1

During this stage they may start to clear up misconceptions, or firm up their understanding of a concept by hearing how another classmate makes sense of the information. As the teacher, you can listen to student responses and provide clarification when needed or pause the lesson to provide re-teaching.

After the Lesson

Once the direct instruction has been completed and students are building upon their skills and competencies, they are ready to proceed into more student-led practice and lesson extensions. In this phase, scaffolding such as the fishbowl, checklist or student-friendly rubric can be used.1 For example, the fishbowl is when one or more students model their independent work while other classmates watch and observe, as if looking in a fishbowl.

So, what helps your students learn? What do your students need from you to help them be successful? What can you prepare to help students in your class who may have gaps or special needs? The answer to all these questions can be found within scaffolding techniques.

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Retrieved from:

1George Lucas Educational Foundation Edutopia, 6 Scaffolding Strategies to Use With Your Students in December 2021 

2Simply Psychology, The Zone of Proximal Development and Scaffolding in December 2021

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.