Monday, October 28, 2013

Scaffolding Students: Tips and Strategies

Created by: Ryan Los, Graduate Associate and Katie Barnett, Tech Fellow for the Center for Teaching and Learning
When prompted with a question by a student, instructors find themselves debating the correct way to respond to ensure that they are not spoon-feeding the answers to their students. It can be difficult to find an effective way for students to learn and retain new information without visualizing the procedure. The process of scaffolding can be an effective way to satisfy instructor and student, as well as increasing the chance that the student will retain the concept. 

What is Scaffolding?

Scaffolding is a process where the instructor helps the student master a task or concept that the student is initially unable to grasp independently. The instructor will offer assistance with only those skills that are beyond the student’s capability. For instance, when an instructor is met with a student that is struggling on a certain problem, the instructor will incrementally walk the student through the task, step by step. Next, the student will follow along and complete the process unassisted (it is vital to allow the student to complete as much of the task unassisted). After the student completes the process, the instructor may create a simple saying or acronym in an effort to assist the student’s memorization. As the student begins to master the concept, the fading process begins where the instructor steps back and allows the student to work independently. The final step of the scaffolding process involves the student assisting another student, this allows the student to think through the process again and verbalize the steps in a manner in which others can understand and in turn permits the student a further in depth understanding of the concept.

Why is scaffolding important?

            Scaffolding is important because it assists students’ learning/acquiring new knowledge largely on their own, with specific cues from instructors; rather than instructors simply giving their students the complete answer. This method helps students retain and master the information as well as offering them the confidence that they can complete the task independently.


            Converting your teaching style to utilize a scaffolding approach:
·         Identify major assignments and create scaffolding for each.
·         Write a brief description of each assignment.
·         Understand what prerequisite skills are necessary for students to have.
·         Determine whether these prerequisite skills are reasonable for students to have already mastered prior to the assignment.
·         Create a map or outline of how each assignment is to be completed.
·         Be transparent about how you designed their learning experiences, in an effort to work together.
1.      Use visual aids: Graphic organizers, pictures, and charts can help students visually represent their ideas, organize information, and grasp concepts (these may guide student thought so that they can apply it). Examples shown here:
2.      Show and tell: Demonstrate to students exactly what they are expected to do.
3.      Tap into prior knowledge: Ask students to share their own experiences and ideas about the content and have them connect it to their own lives.
4.      Give time to talk: Allow students time to verbally make sense of learning with other students who are also engaged in the same experience.

1.      Task definition
2.      Model performance while thinking out loud
3.      Specification and sequencing of activities
4.      Provide cues, hints, guides and structures
5.      Fade when appropriate

Scaffolding is a great way to break up the learning into chunks and provide a tool or structure for each chunk. Overall, this teaching style works effectively and helps struggling students learn and retain information without instructors simply giving students the complete answers. Scaffolding requires the students to think through the process independently so that they are able to complete it again when the instructor is not present.


Alber, R. (2011). edutopia: Six Scaffolding Strategies to Use with Your Students [Website]. Retrieved from

Caruana, V. (2012). Faculty Focus: Scaffolding Student Learning: Tips for Getting Started [Website]. Retrieved from
Lipscomb, L., Swanson, J., & West, A. (2012). Perspectives on Learning, Teaching and Technology [Website]. Retrieved from

Saskatoon Public Schools. (2013). Instruction Strategies Online [Website]. Retrieved from

The University of Waterloo. (2012). Using visual aids [Website]. Retrieved from

No comments:

Post a Comment