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How to use scaffolding in your lessons

How to use scaffolding in your lessons

4 min read
  • Cognitive Load Theory

Becoming an independent learner is an important development for students. They begin to take responsibility for their own learning and become self-motivated. That is why teachers are often searching for effective strategies to aid students in this process. Scaffolding is one such strategy.

Similar to the scaffolding used in construction, it consists of teachers putting support into place, before gradually removing it to construct new and independent learners. So, what exactly is scaffolding? And how can you use it effectively?

What is scaffolding?

Scaffolding is a teaching method that guides students by gradually reducing teacher assistance. There is a shift of responsibility over the learning process from the teacher to the student. The temporary support it provides helps students reach higher levels of comprehension and skill acquisition that they would not be able to achieve without assistance. Teachers facilitate the student’s gradual mastery of a concept or skill. Just like physical scaffolding, it is slowly removed in phases as the student internalises the information and becomes an independent learner.

If you’re still confused about what scaffolding is, here’s an example: when first learning how to ride a bike, there are a set of training wheels to help the rider along. They are adjustable and provide the beginner rider with the necessary support. Without this support from the training wheels, the rider would likely find that bike riding is too complex a task as they have had no prior practice. The training wheels act as a scaffold and will only come off when the rider feels confident in their ability to ride a bike – which wouldn’t have happened without the wheels.

Benefits of scaffolding

Scaffolding enables students to solve problems, carry out tasks and achieve goals independently. They can even use the knowledge they gain in the classroom and apply it to a range of situations.

This therefore makes the technique likely to reduce the negative emotions that students may experience when attempting a difficult task, such as feeling demotivated and discouraged. If teachers have provided effective scaffolding strategies, then students will already have the knowledge they need to complete the task and will feel confident in their abilities.

Other benefits of scaffolding include keeping students focused and motivated and reducing anxiety that may arise due to mistakes. Whilst completing tasks or assessments, if scaffolding is provided then students will view incorrect answers as an opportunity to maximise their learning. Reflection is a highly useful skill and being able to see the positive side of what may be perceived as a negative situation will help students take advantage of their learning.

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How to use scaffolding effectively

Scaffolding is an ideal way to help students bridge the gap between what they are currently able to do independently and their long-term learning goal or outcome. A student’s learning journey can be significantly enhanced through scaffolding – if provided effectively.

For it to be effective, scaffolding needs to be carefully organised to provide learners with considerable guidance. It is especially useful to students early in their learning. As their knowledge increases, these strategies should begin to fade and will gradually disappear from the teaching process as students will have become independent. This will enhance the durability of the knowledge along with how useful it is in acquiring additional skills.

However, research suggests that untimely fading of support can negatively affect how students learn. The process needs to be slow and gradual for students to fully reap the benefits of the scaffolding.

Here are a few effective scaffolding techniques to use in the classroom:

  • Question students to check their understanding
  • Break the task into smaller, more manageable parts
  • “Think aloud” – verbalise the thinking process when completing a task
  • Pre-teach vocabulary – introduce words to students through photos or in context with things they know and are interested in
  • Use “worked examples” – this refers to a step-by-step demonstration of how to perform a task or solve a problem

Final thoughts

Scaffolding refers to a variety of techniques that teachers can implement in their teaching to help students become independent learners. The gradual process involves teachers removing their support when they feel the student is strong enough in their abilities to work alone. If done well, it can help reduce negative self-perceptions and enhances motivation. As a result, it can help students become independent learners.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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