Thursday’s Tip: Scaffolding

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Most structures are built in a similar fashion. Foundations are established, frames are created, and more building material added to fill in the space where walls belong. Eventually, a finished and usable structure results. While cement hardens and nails are hammered, the structure needs scaffolding to pieces in place until they can stand on their own.

Facilitating learning often works in the same way. Students can build their knowledge with the proper scaffolding to help support their progress. The resulting knowledge is a free-standing structure that no longer needs the scaffolding. This is when students are able to act autonomously.

Below are four ways we can provide scaffolding for our students until they can use autonomous learning strategies of their own. (courtesy of Wikipedia)

  • Resources – Instead blindly sending students to the library or internet to search out resources for a project, gather and prepare resources for them to us. As far as internet resources, the best way to provide access is to set up a webpage with links. A social bookmarking tool such as Delicious or Diigo can do this efficiently.
  • A Compelling Task – A compelling task is one that is authentic, real world, and speaks to a student’s interests and experiences. A well-designed task can help a student connect content with their “real” lives. So, when we later ask them to apply what they have learned in school to real world situations, they can do this. Simulation, problem-based, and inquiry-based lessons can do this better than the traditional lecture or drill-and-skill activities.
  • Templates and Guides – Any form or graphic aid that helps students organize their thoughts is a form of scaffolding. Templates leave the content out for students to fill in while benefitting from a teacher’s organizational skills. The same can be said for graphic organizers. However, graphic organizers present information in a visual manner that make it easier for some students to grasp.
  • Guidance and Development of Cognitive and Social Skills – Just like we have to teach students to read and count, it’s important for us to teach them how to think and act. Thinking and acting appropriately in school doesn’t just happen because we tell students what to do. Teaching and facilitating learning has to take place. Modeling and guiding thought process help students meet your expectations. Then, there need to be opportunities to practice what they see or do with your guidance.

All good learning requires some scaffolding. Some students need more than others, but that’s a reality with which we have to contend. Even with our most capable students, scaffolding can help them be successful.

How do you provide the structure necessary for your students to be successful learners? What are some ways in which you have helped students organize their thinking? What are some other ways we provide scaffolding for student learning?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist for the eMINTS National Center.