Similar to the scaffolding used in construction to support workers as they work on a specific task, instructional scaffolds are temporary support structures faculty put in place to assist students in accomplishing new tasks and concepts they could not typically achieve on their own. Once students are able to complete or master the task, the scaffolding is gradually removed or fades away—the responsibility of learning shifts from the instructor to the student.
One of the main benefits of scaffolded instruction is that it provides for a supportive learning environment. In a scaffolded learning environment, students are free to ask questions, provide feedback and support their peers in learning new material. When you incorporate scaffolding in the classroom, you become more of a mentor and facilitator of knowledge rather than the dominant content expert. This teaching style provides the incentive for students to take a more active role in their own learning. Students share the responsibility of teaching and learning through scaffolds that require them to move beyond their current skill and knowledge levels. Through this interaction, students are able to take ownership of the learning event.
When you incorporate scaffolding in the classroom, you become more of a mentor and facilitator of knowledge rather than the dominant content expert.
The need to implement a scaffold will occur when you realize a student is not progressing on some aspect of a task or unable to understand a particular concept. Although scaffolding is often carried out between the instructor and one student, scaffolds can successfully be used for an entire class. The points below are excerpted from Ellis and Larkin (1998), as cited in Larkin (2005), and provide a simple structure of scaffolded instruction.
Although scaffolding is often carried out between the instructor and one student, scaffolds can successfully be used for an entire class.
In other words, the instructor models how to perform a new or difficult task, such as how to use a graphic organizer. For example, the instructor may project or hand out a partially completed graphic organizer and asks students to "think aloud" as he or she describes how the graphic organizer illustrates the relationships among the information contained on it.
The instructor and students then work together to perform the task. For example, the students may suggest information to be added to the graphic organizer. As the instructor writes the suggestions on the white board, students fill in their own copies of the organizer.
At this point, students work with a partner or a small cooperative group to complete the graphic organizer (i.e., either a partially completed or a blank one). More complex content might require a number of scaffolds given at different times to help students master the content.
More complex content might require a number of scaffolds given at different times to help students master the content.
This is the independent practice stage where individual students can demonstrate their task mastery (e.g., successfully completing a graphic organizer to demonstrate appropriate relationships among information) and receive the necessary practice to help them to perform the task automatically and quickly.
Alibali (2006) suggests that as students progress through a task, faculty can use a variety of scaffolds to accommodate students’ different levels of knowledge. More complex content might require a number of scaffolds given at different times to help students master the content. Here are some common scaffolds and ways they could be used in an instructional setting.
As with any teaching technique, scaffolds should complement instructional objectives. While we expect all of our students to grasp course content, each of them will not have the necessary knowledge or capability to initially perform as we have intended. Scaffolds can be used to support students when they begin to work on objectives that are more complex or difficult to complete. For example, the instructional objective may be for students to complete a major paper. Instead of assuming all students know how to begin the process, break the task into smaller, more manageable parts.
Knowing your subject well will also help you identify the need for scaffolding. Plan to use scaffolds on topics that former students had difficulty with or with material that is especially difficult or abstract. Hogan and Pressley, (1997) suggest that you practice scaffold topics and strategies they know well. In other words, begin by providing scaffolded instruction in small steps with content you are most comfortable teaching.
Plan to use scaffolds on topics that former students had difficulty with or with material that is especially difficult or abstract.
The following points can be used as guidelines when implementing instructional scaffolding (adapted from Hogan and Pressley, 1997).
Provide encouragement and praise as well as ask questions...
Help students become less dependent on instructional supports as they work on tasks..
Instructional scaffolds promote learning through dialogue, feedback and shared responsibility. Through the supportive and challenging learning experiences gained from carefully planned scaffolded learning, instructors can help students become lifelong, independent learners.
Alibali, M (2006). Does visual scaffolding facilitate students’ mathematics learning? Evidence from early algebra. https://ies.ed.gov/funding/grantsearch/details.asp?ID=54
Hogan, K., and Pressley, M. (1997). Scaffolding student learning: Instructional approaches and issues. Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books.
Larkin, M. (2002). Using scaffolded instruction to optimize learning. https://www.vtaide.com/png/ERIC/Scaffolding.htm
Dennen, V. P. (2004). Cognitive apprenticeship in educational practice: Research on scaffolding, modeling, mentoring, and coaching as instructional strategies. In D. H. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology (2nd ed.), (p. 815). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Johnston, S., and Cooper, J. (1997). Cooperative Learning and College Teaching. Vol. 9, No. 3 Spring 1997.
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Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. (2012). Instructional scaffolding. In Instructional guide for university faculty and teaching assistants. Retrieved from https://www.niu.edu/citl/resources/guides/instructional-guide