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

Page 2: How Do I Scaffold Instruction?

teacher at boardThere are no hard-and-fast rules for how to scaffold instruction. In fact, how a teacher chooses to go about it will much depend on the task or strategy in question and the students’ needs. The teacher should use common sense, teaching experience, and the students’ needs to assess what type of scaffolding or support will be required by the students.

Although a teacher may scaffold instruction in a number of ways, it is nevertheless important to note that there are two critical elements to keep in mind when using instructional scaffolding:

  • Modeling: Throughout the learning process, students should be able to watch their teacher model, or demonstrate, each step in the task or strategy multiple times. Such modeling and repetition allow students to understand both how to perform each step and why each step is important. Knowing how and why leads to students’ successful performance of the task or strategy.
  • Practice: Students, either individually or as a group, must have the opportunity to work collaboratively with the teacher to practice the task or the strategy.

In the following examples, compare a parent’s teaching a child to ride a bike using scaffolding to another parent’s trying the same without scaffolding. Note that in the example containing scaffolding, the two critical elements of modeling and practice are present.

Example with scaffolding Example without scaffolding 
When I taught my daughter to ride her bike, I sat on the bike to demonstrate how to ride. I started her out with training wheels. Then I gradually raised the training wheels. Once she was ready to remove the training wheels, I steadied her with my hand and walked beside her, and only then did I let her take off on her own.  When I taught my daughter to ride her bike, I explained to her how to do it. Then I put her on the bike and gave her a shove.

Adapted from audio by Robert Reid. 

students working in the classroomOf course, students’ skill levels and needs vary dramatically, as does the difficulty of individual tasks or strategies. As such, students may require different types (or levels) of scaffolding. In fact, Ms. Price, the fourth-grade science teacher from the Challenge, discovers that her students are experiencing different types of problems with the writing assignment. Many of her students, including Sasha, are struggling because they are unable to organize their thoughts. Although they write sentences fairly well, their lack of organization makes their papers choppy and difficult to read. On the other hand, another of her students, James, is experiencing a more basic difficulty: He is unable to identify main ideas for his paper.

Ms. Price decides to use a word-web strategy to help all of her students with their writing assignments. Ms. Price selects this strategy because she has used it in the past to teach about ecological systems, and she thinks the strategy will help her students with their writing assignments. Before she begins, however, she needs to learn more about the different approaches she can use to scaffold instruction. The following three approaches for instructional scaffolding are discussed on the subsequent pages of this module:

  • Content Scaffolding
  • Task Scaffolding
  • Material Scaffolding
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