What Is Scaffolding in Education?

teacher using scaffolding method with her student

When you earn an education degree, you learn how to teach successfully. Part of this learning is discovering that students learn in many ways. As a teacher, you strive to develop practices that help students learn effectively.

One of the main goals of teaching is to help students retain and apply new knowledge. Scaffolding is a teaching technique that supports students acclimate to new learning. If you are new to teaching, you might wonder, what is scaffolding in education? Scaffolding is a powerful educational practice. Let's read more about it and how you will learn to apply it as you earn your education degree.

Scaffolding in Education: An Overview

Scaffolding refers to a method in which teachers offer a particular kind of support to students as they learn and develop a new concept or skill. In the scaffolding model, a teacher may share new information or demonstrate how to solve a problem. The teacher then gradually steps back and lets students practice on their own. Before the students become completely independent, structured support (“scaffolding”) is put in place, such as group practice. Students might work together in small groups to help each other. This process in education is also sometimes called “I do. We do. You do.” In other words, the teacher shows how something is done, then the class practices together and finally, students work individually.

Why Is Scaffolding Part of Education?

Your education degree program will introduce you to many theories of education. These educational theories, including scaffolding, are backed by research. The term “scaffolding” was originally coined in the 1970s. The word itself comes from construction and refers to the temporary platform that is set up for builders to stand on while they put up new walls and floors. In education, scaffolding is a way for teachers to provide support while students master new concepts and skills.

At the beginning of the scaffolding process, the teacher provides a lot of support. That support is then removed in stages. This gradual decrease in the level of support is what constitutes the scaffolding process. Step by step, this process imparts confidence and facility with the new concept or skill.

Scaffolding is tied to the work of the psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who is well known for several important contributions to educational theory. Vygotsky coined the term, “zone of proximal development.” A student's zone of proximal development is based on that student’s current developmental level and potential developmental level. This potential developmental level is relevant to scaffolding. To help a student learn a new task or concept, the teacher targets the student’s zone of proximal development. That means starting with what the student can do — the student’s current developmental level — and providing support that eventually tapers off as the student grows in knowledge and independence.

How Does Scaffolding in Education Work in Practice?

In order to present information to be scaffolded, a teacher must first explain the concept at the students’ current level. The teacher may model the problem-solving process or present how to accomplish a task. After presenting or modeling the task, the scaffolding begins. The teacher may support students by:

  • Breaking the directions into small chunks
  • Talking students through the task while they complete it
  • Grouping students together to talk through the task and support each other
  • Referring to models of the task where students can gather additional information
  • Giving students tips and tricks while they are working

Specific Scaffolding Strategies in Education

Implementing scaffolding strategies in the classroom becomes second nature to most teachers. Your education degree program is likely to introduce you to a variety of scaffolding practices. Some of these methods of scaffolding are especially fun and engaging for students.


Teaching students how to do something by showing them how to do it can be an effective way to scaffold learning. You can problem-solve by walking students through the steps or by talking them through the process. You can also have some students model for their classmates.

Use Prior Knowledge

Students are not blank slates. They come to class with knowledge of and experience with many different topics. Teachers who connect new learning to prior life experiences help students integrate information more quickly. Students understand and retain new information more readily when they can connect it to something they already know.

Talk About It

Since people need time to reflect on their learning, it can be beneficial to give students time to absorb what they have just seen before they apply the knowledge to their independent work. Sometimes this kind of reflection is facilitated by putting students in pairs or small groups to talk to each other.

Share Important Vocabulary

Scaffolding is valuable across all educational subject areas. One area where students may need extra scaffolding is reading. Before approaching a particularly complex text, a teacher can share specific vocabulary items that may pose challenges. This scaffolding should focus on words that are essential for full comprehension of the text yet not easy for the students to figure out from the context.

Show What You Mean

Graphic organizers can be extremely important in helping students organize their thinking about complex or interrelated pieces of information. These visual aids help students organize how they think about one idea in connection with others. Graphic organizers can remind students about and guide them through a new process or task. They can also help students translate abstract ideas into concrete ways of thinking.

At Grand Canyon University, learning about scaffolding in the classroom is an integral part of earning your education degree. Whether you earn a Bachelor of Science in Education or a Master of Arts in Reading, scaffolding will be a key practice in your classroom delivery.

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.

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