What’s the opposite of scaffolding a lesson? Saying something like this to students: “Read this academic article, write a detailed essay on the topic it explores, and submit it by Wednesday.” Think about your pupils’ response: there’s no real guidance, no set expectations, no safety net, no parachute—they’re just left to their own interpretation of the question.
Let’s step back from that nightmare sceario and start again. We can start with the agreement that scaffolding a lesson and differentiating instruction are two different things. Scaffolding is when we break up the learning into manageable chunks and providing a tool, method, or structure, with each chunk to access learning. If we were scaffolding reading, for example, we might think about previewing the text and discussing key vocabulary, or chunk the text and then read and discuss as you go. With differentiation, we might give a pupil an entirely different piece of text to read, or shorten the text or alter it, or modify the assignment that accompanies the text.
Simply put, scaffolding strategies are techniques that teachers use to support student learning and help them develop a deeper understanding of the content. The aim is to provide students with the necessary support and resources to overcome challenges and build the skills they need to succeed. These strategies are flexible and can be adapted to meet the needs of individual students and the demands of specific subject areas.
By using a variety of scaffolding strategies in the classroom, teachers can create a supportive and engaging learning environment that fosters student success and helps build their confidence and independence. Examples of scaffolding strategies can include pre-teaching vocabulary, using visual aids, and Pause, Ask Questions, Pause, Review (PAQPR). These strategies can be used in a variety of ways and in combination with one another to create a comprehensive approach to student learning. Whether used to support struggling students or to challenge advanced learners, scaffolding strategies are a powerful tool for enhancing student engagement and achievement.
1. Show and Tell
Many of us will understand that we learn best by seeing something happening rather than just listening about it? Modelling a behaviour or an action for students is a cornerstone of scaffolding. In my experience, teaching Digital Technologies (or ICT in old money) gives students the opportunity to see what good looks like. By modelling good coding practice (showing), I can teach my classes, not only how to code, but also the softer (but just as important) skills of coding:
- layout (makes code easy to read)
- debugging (attention to detail)
- adding comments to the code (notes to explain what each section is for/does)
- time management (copy/paste similar parts of code and then edit as needed)
The benefits of this to me are many. Pupils understand the topic better, make links to other parts of learning, and become more confident in what they are doing.
Where possible, take every chance you have, show or demonstrate to students exactly what they are expected to do.
Show and Tell is a scaffolding strategy used in the classroom to support student learning, understanding and development. It works by providing a structure for students to present and share information with their peers, thereby enhancing their confidence and ability to communicate effectively. You can use the following structure as a method of delivery in the classroom:
- Introduction: The teacher introduces the concept of Show and Tell and explains its purpose.
- Preparation: Students are given time to prepare a short presentation on a topic of their choice. This can involve research, collecting items, or creating visual aids.
- Presentation: Students take turns presenting their Show and Tell to the class. The teacher and classmates listen attentively and ask questions to encourage further discussion.
- Feedback: After each presentation, the teacher provides constructive feedback to the student, highlighting their strengths and offering suggestions for improvement.
- Reflection: Students reflect on their own performance and the feedback they received, and consider how they can apply this to future presentations.
The Show and Tell strategy is a powerful tool for developing speaking and presentation skills, as well as encouraging students to explore new topics and share their knowledge with others. Additionally, it fosters critical thinking, creativity, and a love of learning.
2. Tap Into Prior Knowledge
Students come into the classroom with their own experiences and prior knowledge – use it! By helping students to access memories and relate to experiences in a novel, you can encourage and develop their empathy and connection to a topic in their own lives. Sometimes it may be necessary to offer hints or suggestions, leading them to make the connections, but once they get there, they will grasp the content as their own.
Commencing learning in your classroom with the prior knowledge of your students and using this as a framework for future lessons is a technique that many would identify as good teaching, not just a scaffolding technique.
Tapping into prior knowledge is a scaffolding strategy that leverages students’ prior experiences, background knowledge, and understanding to support new learning. The idea is to build upon what students already know to make new information more accessible and meaningful. Here’s how it can be implemented in the classroom:
- Assessment: The teacher assesses students’ prior knowledge by asking open-ended questions, conducting a pre-assessment, or reviewing prior work.
- Connection: The teacher makes connections between the new information and students’ prior knowledge by highlighting similarities, differences, and relationships.
- Activation: The teacher activates students’ prior knowledge by asking questions, leading discussions, and providing opportunities for students to share their understanding.
- Reinforcement: The teacher reinforces students’ prior knowledge by using examples, anecdotes, and real-life situations to make the new information more relevant and engaging.
- Reflection: The teacher encourages students to reflect on their prior knowledge and how it relates to the new information, and how they can apply this to future learning.
Tapping into prior knowledge is a highly effective strategy for scaffolding student learning, as it helps students build a deeper understanding of new information and make connections to their own experiences. This approach also helps students retain new information more effectively and fosters a sense of ownership and engagement in the learning process.
3. Give Time to Talk
All learners need time to process and assimilate new ideas and information. Students also need time to verbally process and make sense of what is being said, before articulating their learning with their peers who are engaged in the same experience and journey. Structured discussions work really well with children regardless of their age. They will grapple with the complexities of an idea in ways that they know, understand and in a manner in keeping with their age/maturity level.
This year I have begun using think-pair-share with my Year 8 classes and it has really helped to structure their thinking. We can take one part of a concept being taught, give them time to structure their own thoughts, pair with a classmate and discuss the topic, then when it comes to sharing the idea with the class, their contributions are succinct and well structured.
If you aren’t weaving in think-pair-share, turn-and-talk, triad teams, or some other structured talking time throughout the lesson, I would recommend that you should begin including this strategy on a regular basis.
Giving time to talk is a scaffolding strategy that provides students with opportunities to express their thoughts and ideas in a safe and supportive learning environment. The idea is to create a space where students can share their understanding, build on each other’s ideas, and practice speaking and listening skills. Here’s how it can be used in the classroom:
- Introduction: The teacher introduces the concept of giving time to talk and explains its purpose, emphasising the importance of active listening and respectful communication.
- Preparation: The teacher prepares a task, activity, or discussion question that requires students to work together and share their thoughts and ideas.
- Opportunity to talk: The teacher provides students with opportunities to talk in small groups, pairs, or as a class. The teacher may facilitate the conversation by asking questions, making connections, or clarifying misunderstandings.
- Active listening: The teacher encourages students to practice active listening by paying attention to each other’s ideas, asking questions, and building on each other’s thoughts.
- Feedback: The teacher provides feedback on the quality of the conversation, highlighting areas of strength and offering suggestions for improvement.
- Reflection: The teacher encourages students to reflect on their participation in the conversation, and how they can apply their learning to future discussions.
Giving time to talk is a powerful scaffolding strategy that promotes student engagement, collaboration, and critical thinking. It also helps students develop their communication and interpersonal skills, which are essential for success in school and beyond.
4. Pre-Teach Vocabulary
This is also referred to as front-loading vocabulary. It is a strategy that teachers maybe don’t use enough. Many of us, myself included, are guilty of sending students all alone down the bumpy, muddy path known as Challenging Text—a road that is booby-trapped with difficult or unknown vocabulary. We send them ill-prepared and then are often shocked when they lose interest, start conversations with other pupils, make a disinterested noise, or-if you’re really not paying attention- fall asleep.
Pre-teaching vocabulary is a scaffolding strategy that involves introducing and defining new words or terms before they are encountered in a lesson or text. The goal is to provide students with the necessary background knowledge and understanding to help them comprehend the content more effectively.
Pre-teaching vocabulary doesn’t mean that we put a dozen words from the chapter on the screen and get our students to look up the definitions and write them out—we all know how that will go. Instead, introduce the words to your class in photos or in context with things they know and are interested in. By using analogies and metaphors, we can invite students to create a symbol or drawing for each word. Giving time for small-group and whole-class discussion of the words. Not until they’ve done all this should the dictionaries come out. And the dictionaries will be used only to compare with those definitions they’ve already discovered on their own.
With the relevant words front-loaded, students are ready to tackle that challenging text.
Here’s how it can work in the classroom:
- Assessment: The teacher assesses students’ prior knowledge of the vocabulary by conducting a pre-assessment, asking questions, or reviewing previous work.
- Introduction: The teacher introduces the new vocabulary by providing definitions, examples, and non-examples. The teacher may also use visuals, graphic organizers, or mnemonic devices to help students understand and remember the words.
- Practice: The teacher provides opportunities for students to practice using the new vocabulary, through activities such as word sorts, sentence completion, or word maps.
- Reinforcement: The teacher reinforces the use of the new vocabulary by incorporating it into lessons and discussions, and by using it in written assignments and assessments.
- Reflection: The teacher encourages students to reflect on their understanding of the vocabulary and how they can apply it to future learning.
Pre-teaching vocabulary is a highly effective scaffolding strategy, as it helps students build a deeper understanding of new concepts and improves their reading comprehension. This approach also helps to reduce frustration and confusion, and enables students to engage with the content more effectively.
5. Use Visual Aids
Graphic organisers, pictures, and charts can all be used as scaffolding tools. Graphic organisers are very specific in that they help pupils to visually represent their ideas, organise information, and grasp concepts such as sequencing and cause and effect.
A graphic organiser shouldn’t be main focus, but rather act as a scaffolding tool that helps guide and shape students’ thinking. Some students can dive right into discussing, or writing an essay, or synthesising several different hypotheses, without using a graphic organiser of some sort, but many of our students can benefit from using a graphic organiser when faced with a difficult reading or challenging new information. If we think of graphic organisers as training wheels—they’re temporary and can be removed as soon as the student learns the processes involved in reaching a proficiency in the task being completed.
Using visual aids is a scaffolding strategy that involves incorporating visuals, such as pictures, diagrams, graphs, videos, and animations, into the classroom to support student learning. The goal is to provide students with a visual representation of the information, making it easier to understand and retain. Here’s how it can work in the classroom:
- Introduction: The teacher introduces the visual aid and explains its purpose, encouraging students to use it as a resource during the lesson.
- Explanation: The teacher uses the visual aid to provide a clear and concise explanation of a concept, process, or idea.
- Engagement: The teacher encourages students to engage with the visual aid, asking questions, making connections, and offering explanations.
- Reinforcement: The teacher reinforces the use of the visual aid by incorporating it into lessons and discussions, and by using it in written assignments and assessments.
- Reflection: The teacher encourages students to reflect on their understanding of the concept, process, or idea and how they can apply it to future learning.
Using visual aids is a highly effective scaffolding strategy, as it provides students with a visual representation of the information, making it easier to understand and retain. This approach also helps to engage students, foster critical thinking, and promote active learning.
6. Pause, Ask Questions, Pause, Review
This is an effective way to check for understanding while students work with a chunk of difficult text or learn a new concept or content. The questions will need to be designed and structured ahead of time, making sure they’re specific to what is being learned, guiding the students to deeper understanding, and open-ended. Great questions can still fail if we don’t give students time to think out their responses, so hold out during that Uncomfortable Silence-it will be worth it. We can keep pupils engaged as active listeners by calling on someone to give the big picture of what was just discussed, discovered, or questioned. If the class as a whole seems stuck on the questions, then you can provide an opportunity for students to discuss in pairs in order to break down the questions and attack it together.
Pause, Ask Questions, Pause, Review (PAQPR) is a scaffolding strategy that involves breaking down a lesson into manageable chunks and pausing at key points to ask questions, encourage reflection, and review learning. The goal is to provide students with opportunities to process and integrate new information, and to build a deeper understanding of the content. Here’s how it works:
- Introduction: The teacher introduces the concept of PAQPR and explains its purpose, emphasizing the importance of active engagement and reflection.
- Explanation: The teacher provides a clear and concise explanation of a concept, process, or idea, using examples, visuals, and hands-on activities.
- Pause: The teacher pauses at key points in the explanation to ask questions, encourage reflection, and review learning.
- Ask Questions: The teacher asks questions that encourage students to think deeply about the content, make connections, and apply their understanding.
- Pause: The teacher pauses again to allow students time to process the new information and reflect on their understanding.
- Review: The teacher reviews the key concepts and ideas covered in the lesson, highlighting areas of strength and offering suggestions for improvement.
- Reflection: The teacher encourages students to reflect on their learning and how they can apply it to future lessons.
PAQPR is a highly effective scaffolding strategy, as it provides students with opportunities to process and integrate new information, and to build a deeper understanding of the content. This approach also helps to engage students, foster critical thinking, and promote active learning.
In conclusion, scaffolding strategies are an essential component of effective teaching and learning.
With so many diverse needs in our classrooms (newcomer students, pupils with additional needs, auditory processing differences etc), there is a strong need for teachers to learn and experiment with new scaffolding strategies in order to help their pupils achieve. The phrase “more haste, less speed” can certainly apply here: we will make more progress with a task when we don’t rush it too quickly. Scaffolding a lesson may mean that it takes longer to teach, but the end product is of far greater quality and the experience much more rewarding for all involved.
By providing students with the support and resources they need to succeed, scaffolding strategies help to build student confidence and independence, and foster a deep understanding of the content. Whether used to support struggling students or to challenge advanced learners, scaffolding strategies are a highly effective way to enhance student engagement and achievement. By using a variety of scaffolding strategies, teachers can create a supportive and engaging learning environment that prepares students for success in the classroom and beyond. In the end, scaffolding strategies are an important tool for teachers who want to help their students reach their full potential and succeed in all their academic pursuits.