10 scaffolding strategies to help all students reach their goals

Scaffolding strategies help get the job done.

Imagine being asked to scale a twenty-foot wall. Your only directions are to get to the top.

You might be one of the few people who can climb up the wall effortlessly, but in reality, you may need a little help. A rope or a ladder would be useful, but a scaffold would ensure your success.

Teacher-assigned learning tasks can seem just as insurmountable as a tall wall to kids. The scaffold ensures they are successful.

Scaffolded instruction doesn’t mean giving students answers. It’s not alternate work, either. When you scaffold instruction, you are placing footholds so your students can master their learning one step at a time. You empower them through the zone of proximal development.

The zone of proximal development

Developed by psychologist Lev Vygotsky, the zone of proximal development (ZPD) explains how students who are near mastering concepts can be successful with extra help. In essence, what students do with others today, they can do alone tomorrow.

Scaffolding comes in many forms. Sensory, interactive, and visual scaffolds can help your students learn. Best of all, you can begin implementing them immediately.

Try these 10 ideas for scaffolding instruction in your classroom:

  1. Gauge what students already know. Have them contribute information about their experiences to make lessons relevant.
  2. Make predictions. By connecting contextual details and prior knowledge, students engage with information and make educated guesses about it. Their involvement in the process keeps them motivated to pursue gathering information and checking their accuracy.
  3. Model It. Show students what to do. By modeling the task, you help your students understand the steps involved in doing it.
  4. Incorporate realia. Having a real-life example can help students recognize what you’re talking about.
  5. Use sentence starters. Reluctant writers have difficulty getting started. A sentence starter helps to prime the pump by giving the student the first few words needed for a writing assignment.
  6. Get graphic. Visuals and graphic organizers make intangible concepts concrete. Incorporate graphs, timelines, charts, maps, and pictures to provide students with representations they can see.
  7. Gesture for reinforcement. Simple gestures reinforce meaning, especially for ELL and young learners. If you give directions to open a book, pantomime doing it.
  8. Break large tasks into smaller steps. Learners may have difficulty remembering all the steps they have to follow. By creating smaller chunks of directions, you’re providing scaffolds that students need.
  9. Encourage collaboration. Take advantage of kids’ social strengths. Encourage them to collaborate with others. Assign “elbow partners” or ask students to work in pairs.
  10. Preteach key vocabulary. If students recognize the vocabulary in the lesson, they are more likely to understand what you’re teaching. Teach the vocabulary first. Then ask students to predict what they will be learning about based on the words they learned.

Teachers can gradually reduce the level of scaffolded support as students master learning. Think of it as taking the training wheels off a bike. Like the bicyclist, students will gain the confidence they need to take off on their own.

It’s been said that the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. The same is true for mastering learning concepts. By breaking large concepts into small, manageable bites, you’re giving your students an opportunity to scale any learning activity.

Scaffolding strategies ensure that students reach their learning goals.

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