The Secret of Scaffolding

I’ve always disliked the term scaffolding.  At first I thought it was because it was associated with Lev Vygotsky.  I had never heard of the guy and then suddenly I was supposed to answer an essay question about him on my master’s degree comprehensive exam!  However, after passing the exam, I realized the concept of scaffolding bothered me for another reason.  The definition was easy enough to understand:  providing minimal support to students as they learn a new concept just beyond their current abilities.  However, what I didn’t really understand is what that looked like in the classroom.  What exactly was I supposed to do to make that happen?  Fortunately, I encountered some specific information in regard to scaffolding in the NAEYC Developmentally Appropriate Practice book that finally shed some light on the situation.


The book lists specific strategies to use in the classroom that are easy to comprehend and were actually things I was already doing.  For example, one of the strategies is modeling or demonstrating.  How often had I modeled writing for children or demonstrated making a pattern with my body?  Countless times!  Another strategy is giving hints or cues.  Immediately I was taken back to the days of sitting on the floor doing puzzles with children.  Referring to colors, images, edge pieces were all ways I was giving clues without doing the puzzle for them.


How about giving assistance?  Hadn’t I helped a child cross the monkey bars or walk across a balance beam?  Guess what?  That’s also scaffolding.  Another technique is adding or creating a challenge.  You see the child can write their first name, now you can challenge them to write their last name or their best friend’s name.  Finally, encouraging and acknowledging children’s efforts can be considered scaffolding.  “I noticed you worked really hard on sorting those buttons.”  “You look very proud of zipping your own jacket!”  By specifically stating what the child has done they will be motivated to continue those efforts and know exactly what they did in regard to learning something new.


So, it looks like I was upset for nothing.  Scaffolding is actually very simple and something that teachers are already implementing.  However, when we are more aware of what scaffolding entails and make intentional efforts to use all the scaffolding techniques in a purposeful way, we become more effective educators. Our effectiveness impacts students' learning success in our classrooms.

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Training Spotlight

1st-3rd grade educators worked together to learn engaging ways to develop number sense. Students will develop fact fluency while playing games that use their number sense strategies. By learning their facts in this way, students are not merely memorizing, but rather learning to work with numbers flexibly.  “Low achievers are often low achievers not because they know less but because they don’t use numbers flexibly – they have been set on the wrong path, often from an early age, of trying to memorize methods instead of interacting with numbers flexibly.” Jo Boaler,  Stanford University, 2009


April 8, 2019

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