How to Use Scaffolding Teaching Methods

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Scaffolding is a teaching strategy that focuses on raising students' abilities one step at a time and removing support as the student progresses. This encourages independence and enables the students to be active learners. Scaffolding begins with lessons that are just a step beyond what the learners are able to accomplish unassisted; the teacher builds on the students' previous knowledge and then removes himself as the support, allowing students to master and internalize the content. Key to success with this teaching strategy is assessing accurately the students' current abilities; it is also important to decrease support from the teacher at an appropriate time, neither too quickly, nor too slowly. The method can be employed in any subject matter for any grade level.

1 Identify the concept

Identify the concept you wish to teach using scaffolding. It can be a single skill, such as “borrowing” when doing subtraction problems, or a larger skill set, such as persuasive writing. To begin, it might be simpler to plan one trial lesson before trying to use scaffolding for an entire unit.

2 Assess the students'

Assess the students' prior knowledge of the skill or concept. This can be done informally through class discussion and brainstorming or with a formal pretest assessment. A “K/W/L” chart is a tool that can be used with some subjects and all grade levels. With this tool, the class would collaboratively record what they currently know about the topic in one column and what they would like to know about the topic in another, and, finally, after the unit or lesson, they record what they learned.

3 Identify the next step

Identify the next step beyond what the students are currently capable of doing and set this as a learning goal for the lesson or unit. Goals must be obtainable, but not already within the students' capabilities. This step may need some differentiation, as not all students will be capable of reaching the same level of mastery over a skill.

4 Create an activity

Create an activity introducing the new skill. This should be one that can be repeated several times -- first modeled by the teacher, then completed as an entire class, then completed in small groups of students and lastly completed individually. For instance, a teacher might prepare a number of sentences that need to be edited to correct grammatical errors. She would edit a couple of the sentences, thinking aloud as an example, then would ask the students to give her ideas for completing the next couple of sentences and then assign students to complete the remainder in pairs or alone.

5 Assess the students individually

Assess the students individually after the lesson or unit to determine whether they have mastered the concept.

Suzanne Akerman began writing in 2000. She has worked as a consultant at Pacific Lutheran University's Writing Center and her works have been published in the creative arts journal "Saxifrage." Akerman holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master of Arts in education from Pacific Lutheran University.