It’s not a new term, but it is receiving renewed interested from teachers. Rightfully so, scaffolding is the key to creating massive learning in the quickest time. But how can scaffolding cripple student learning? What learning strategies effectively scaffold students?
Scaffolding is support. Guiding students in the learning process is scaffolding. Here are some examples:
- Next generation guided reading
- Small group instruction in math
- Interactive visuals to teach concepts and vocabulary
- Gradual releasing independent application to students
This is a short list. Dozens of learning strategies could also be added (see the 11 below), but first here are some pitfalls that actually hinder student learning.
Scaffolding That Hurts Independence
Imagine building a house but leaving the hammers, saws, ladders, and paint buckets everywhere. That’s just wrong! The same goes for these pitfalls of scaffolding. They actually create dependence. They do not create independent learners:
- Guided practice, always. It’s in your nature to support. But students need non-graded, non-threatening practice where they do it alone. Allow mistakes. They can learn from mistakes.
- Telling about a book before you read. Yes, students will understand it better! But it doesn’t support a transferable skill for the next text.
- Straight to independent practice. Going straight to independent practice creates helpless hand-raisers who give up easily.
- Fill-in-the-blank everywhere. That’s too much support! Students need to see a blank space staring at them. Not Taylor Swift, but a real piece of paper waiting for their pens. It’s daunting, but it promotes thinking.
Just the Right Amount of Scaffolding
Too much support hurts learning in the long-run. Too little creates frustrated learners. Just the right amount of in-time scaffolding creates challenged, yet successful learners.
The right amount of support allows the challenge to create minor mistakes in new learning. Not overwhelming travesties, but simply errors. These errors become learning when realized. That’s scaffolding.
Here’s a quick list of ways to scaffold learning in your students:
- Show. Teach by showing, not just telling.
- Think aloud. During the showing process, pause and tell the students that this is what you are thinking.
- Prior Knowledge. Get students to talk about their prior knowledge at the outset. Each day.
- Collaboration. Use peer practice often.
- Goals. Refocus the students throughout the lesson on the learning goal. Refresh the connection.
- Visuals. Use plenty of visuals. All the time.
- 3-D. Use real, tangible objects whenever in place of visuals.
- Talk. Student talk is peer support. Never go beyond 15 minutes without giving a question and engaging student talk.
- Pre-Teach. Pre-teach specific students prior to whole-class instruction. Just a minute before the tardy bell. Even the day before. They’ll get much more out of the lesson.
- Variety. Routines are good, but try a new technique each week. Tapping various learning methods can scaffold diverse learners.
- Metacognition. At least once a day, ask students to pause and think about what learning strategies they’re using. How are they approaching their work? How else could they approach it? Help them be intentional learners.
All of these scaffolding techniques focus on creating independence in learners. They are ways to provide support, but not create dependence in students.
As you plan your lessons, think of the scaffolds you provide. Ask yourself if there is enough support but not too much. Think about the different ways to provide scaffolding.