What is Scaffolding in Education: Shelving to Help Children Reach for Success

Images of scaffolding used for construction projects may come to mind when you hear the word scaffolding. However, scaffolding in education refers to a method of providing support or learning aids to students that allows them to reach their own goals over time. 

Basically, scaffolding means you take an idea and “build” on it to form a successful structure. It puts students in an active learning environment and their participation levels improve significantly.

The article explores the benefits of scaffolding in education and highlights tips on how it can be an effective method for teachers. 

What is Scaffolding in Education?

Scaffolding in education is the process of adding reminders, cues, prompts, and hints to a lesson or activity to make it easier for the learner to understand.

Scaffolding can be an incredibly effective tool if used correctly. Furthermore, it can help learners overcome their learning deficits and make them more successful in the classroom.

 It does not however directly instruct the individual on the task they must complete. Teachers, parents, and tutors frequently use scaffolding to assist individuals in learning how to accomplish tasks that are new and difficult.

How Does Scaffolding in Education Work?

Scaffolding is a method of teaching that helps to ‘build’ on prior learning. Although there is no strict definition of this concept, it is generally recognized as a framework or structure that supports and enhances a person’s learning.

It is the process of showing learners how big ideas are constructed from smaller ideas. A scaffold is a physical structure to support builders during construction, although in education it’s used to provide support for those building knowledge and understanding. 

Scaffolding is typically used with students who have difficulty learning new material and skills on their own. The basic idea behind this technique is that a teacher assists the student or provides additional help only when the student demonstrates that they need it.

A teacher scaffolds a lesson when he/she uses various techniques to guide learners through difficult content. By using various teaching methods that increase understanding of new material, teachers help students build confidence and mastery.

What Are the Benefits of Scaffolding in Education?

1. Students become better at solving problems

The first point of scaffolding is to help the student in solving the problem. The teacher can demonstrate the problem and give instructions on how to solve it.

Working on a subject like math or science, or in the arts, like drawing, painting, or sculpture, scaffolding builds a student’s intellectual capabilities. 

Students develop their strategy to solve the problem and remember what they did. This type of learning often leads to new ideas and innovation.

2. A greater level of student engagement

Many would argue that one of the biggest benefits of scaffolding in education is an increased level of student engagement.

By breaking down the large goal into smaller achievable steps, students are better able to focus on the result. Students are more confident and less anxious about being overwhelmed by the task at hand.

3. Collaboration between students and teachers

Scaffolding can be a great way to push students to higher levels of thinking. When teachers collaborate with the learner instead of just providing the answers. It helps develop critical thinking skills

Students are allowed to work collaboratively with their teacher as he or she guides them through the process. Scaffolding is all about helping students analyze the subject at hand. To implement scaffolding, teachers must engage students, establish goals, and clarify knowledge.

4. A positive learning environment

Scaffolding is an educational term used to describe any support that a teacher or parent offers a child who is learning something new. Making sure the child understands all the facts before moving forward could include making sure the child is focused and not confused. 

This type of learning environment provides the necessary tools and support that learners need to learn self-sufficiently. Knowing how, why, and when scaffolding works is helpful whatever age group you’re teaching.

5. A better understanding of the topic

Scaffolding is a proven teaching method that is used to create a better understanding of what is been taught in school. The process involves the current knowledge of an individual and attempting to expand said knowledge by adding new pieces or aspects. 

Scaffolding generally means helping people learn one step at a time and in doing so it allows those individuals to perform everyday activities on their own.

6. Promotes independent learning

Scaffolding is a teaching technique that guides the learner through an activity until they complete it. This gives them independence in completing a task and gives them great satisfaction. 

By applying scaffolding activities in education, students will learn to apply their understanding at a higher level. Teachers provide prompts or questions to help students to get meaning out of tasks.

7. Scaffolding gives teachers insights into student progress

Scaffolding allows teachers to observe their students as they work independently and together, which gives teachers insight into student progress.

One of the most beneficial aspects of scaffolding is the ability to see what students are working on and how they are progressing. This way teachers can provide guidance, and even change assignments if needed.

What Can Teachers Do to Implement Scaffolding in Their Classrooms?

1. Build on prior knowledge of the students  

Scaffolding is a technique to help students build on prior knowledge that makes it easier to learn new things or ideas.

To plan effective classroom activities, the teacher must first assess the student’s level of understanding and then adapt their expectations for instruction. 

In this learning process, the teacher will make use of different types of prompts such as physical, verbal, and graphic prompts.

These prompts are designed to be used with students that are struggling with a concept or learning something new.

2. Teachers should break the directions into small chunks

Often when teachers introduce new concepts and skills, they spend a lot of time trying to teach students everything at once. This makes it hard for students to remember it all, and in turn, makes them frustrated.

By breaking tasks down into smaller parts, students can learn the skill more effectively and enjoy the process. 

Scaffolding in education works best by starting with the direction and having students progress from one step to another.

To make various forms of scaffolding in education successful, teachers must facilitate prompts and clear instructions. 

3. Teachers should leverage visual aids

A picture is worth a thousand words, so it is said. A visual aid is a tool that helps students learn better by making things simpler and easier to understand. Simply put, visual aids are just visual representations of ideas and concepts. 

With the use of visual aids, teachers can help students understand concepts, learn important new information and support the learning and teaching process.

Visual aids help teachers as well as students to learn. This is true in all aspects of education, whether it be primary education or higher education.

4. Discussing the task in groups and offering each other support

The teacher gives guided or shared instruction to the whole group, with particular attention being paid to one or two students who need extra support at that moment, rather than to every student in turn. 

This is sometimes called “pull-out” instruction. The teacher then gives reinforcement – praise, extra questions, hints on how to succeed – to each of the more successful students.

For example, an English teacher might be teaching the use of relative clauses by asking a class to complete a pair of sentences by inserting a relative clause into each successive sentence. 

Students who are familiar with this usage might have little difficulty completing their sentences, but less experienced ones may remain stuck.

In such cases, scaffolding may be provided in the form of questions suggested for answering (“what type of thing is all the things that he bought?”) or encouragement (“you know this, you wrote it yesterday”).

5. Show and tell

Finally, scaffolding doesn’t need to be boring. Teachers should show and tell what they’re doing so students can see how the steps apply to their understanding of the content.

Teachers can do this by showing their students what they’d like them to do; they demonstrate it and then they tell the students to do it.

The teacher models this behavior, so that the student’s work has structure. 

6. Give students tips and tricks while they are working

Scaffolding can be seen in the real world when a furniture builder builds support structures for a new building or scaffolding before the building is complete. That way, the builders can work on different levels at the same time while the new building is being completed. 

Scaffolding in education works similarly. Teachers should give students tips and tricks while they are working with students. Students can work on different levels at the same time so that multiple skills can be worked on at once.

7. Pre-teach vocabulary 

Teachers can help students develop vocabulary by pre-teaching vocabulary concepts in lectures.

Teachers should also assist with mini-lessons and practice time. It’s important to explain new vocabulary terms thoroughly so that students know exactly what they’re learning to do and why they’re doing it.

Students don’t learn everything at once, and teachers don’t jump from one idea to another without any support. A good scaffolded lesson will support every step, with teachers knowing where every student is regarding the topic being taught.

8. The most effective use of scaffolding is to teach complex tasks or strategies

In education, scaffolding is a process whereby the teacher gradually provides support or structure to help students learn.

The process begins with an inexperienced student who is provided direction and assistance. The role of the teacher is to facilitate the student’s learning experience. 

To do this, the teacher must be fully aware of the myriad of ways their students may want to learn.

The learner then uses the structure to move further and further toward independence. When it is used in this way, scaffolding allows the student to construct an individual understanding of complex concepts and skills.


When to use scaffolding in education?

Scaffolding is used in education when a student needs support with a particular skill, concept, or task. It allows the student to scaffold onto a more capable student who can provide the appropriate level of assistance.

How can parents scaffold their children’s learning at home?

You can scaffold your children’s learning at home by providing opportunities for them to practice the lessons they’re learning at school.

Parents can help a child succeed by asking questions, having open-ended discussions, and engaging in small steps activities.

Positive reinforcement can also scaffold a child’s learning at home.  Even small praise can have a large impact on children’s behavior.

How often do teachers need to change the structure of the learning environment?

Since the learning environment is an environment where the teacher uses different teaching strategies to engage students, it should be changed regularly.

Teachers can change it by switching from a lecture style to small group activities. The practice will not only enable them to interact with students but also will help them get a glimpse of students´ learning needs during the activity.

Final Thoughts 

Scaffolding is a system that teachers and teachers’ assistants use to support people learning new skills.

For example, in the real world, scaffolding is used when you are taught to drive.

Before you start driving yourself, someone with more experience would sit next to you operating the pedals and steering wheel.

As your skills improve, he/she would move further away or take his/her hands off of the wheel until you were ready to drive on your own. 

Scaffolding is a helpful educational tool that allows students to explore, invent, and achieve. This process provides students with a hands-on approach to learning new ideas in subjects like math and science.

Using scaffolding in education can help students future-proof their careers by allowing them to experiment with different ways to solve problems. 

Throughout this article, you have seen that scaffolding in education is heavily reliant on teachers. Therefore, teachers must know what they are doing.

For more information on how teachers can improve learning, see the article on the qualities of a good teacher

Thanks for reading.