If you were Ms. Price, what could you do to help your students when they struggle with a task?

Page 1: What Is Instructional Scaffolding?

ScaffoldingInstructional scaffolding is a process through which a teacher adds supports for students in order to enhance learning and aid in the mastery of tasks. The teacher does this by systematically building on students’ experiences and knowledge as they are learning new skills. Just like the scaffold in the picture to the left, these supports are temporary and adjustable. As students master the assigned tasks, the supports are gradually removed.


Woman with babyTo gain a better understanding of scaffolding, consider the analogy of a child learning to walk. First, a parent holds the child up. His feet barely touch the floor as he mimics walking. Slowly, the child is allowed to support more and more of his own weight. Next, he might support himself by holding on to an object like a coffee table while his parents watch. Finally, the child is ready to take steps, though his parent’s hand might still be just inches away. Soon enough, the child is walking—and running—on his own. Like the parents in this example, teachers teaching new tasks initially have complete control and support their students fully. Gradually, when the students are ready, support is withdrawn until the students are able to stand on their own.

Students at their desks

Providing support, or scaffolding, is a critical component in teaching new tasks with multiple steps. Likewise, scaffolding is a critical element in the teaching of instructional strategies (see the IRIS Module SRSD: Using Learning Strategies to Enhance Student Learning). Many teachers do this naturally when teaching a new task or strategy, whereas others need to purposefully incorporate scaffolding into their teaching styles. It is important to remember, however, that even when students have learned the purpose of a strategy and have memorized its steps, they may still not be ready to use the strategy independently.

Students with learning disabilities are often not actively engaged in the learning process when being taught a new skill. Instead, they are only going through the motions of the task. This is so because students with learning disabilities often don’t understand the underlying concepts to which they should be attending during each step. For this reason, teachers should observe their students closely to ensure that they understand the information being demonstrated. Having students demonstrate the task independently will help teachers to determine whether the students are learning.

Keep in Mind

Teachers should remember several important facts about instructional scaffolding:

  • Scaffolding is most useful for teaching new tasks or strategies with multiple steps.
  • Any student at any grade level, including high school, can benefit from instructional scaffolding.
  • Scaffolding can be applied to any academic task.

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