Comparing Scaffolding and Differentiated Instruction

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  • 0:04 Addressing Student Learning
  • 0:54 Scaffolding
  • 2:00 Differentiation
  • 3:13 Using Them Together
  • 3:55 Example
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

Scaffolding and differentiation are effective instructional methods used in today's classroom. Learn what these methods are, their similarities and differences, and how they should be used.

Addressing Student Learning

Imagine that you teach a kindergarten class. All of your students have different learning styles, different levels of developmental readiness, and different abilities. You are expected to create a learning environment in which each student will progress and meet the learning goals. How will you do this?

Students learn by building upon prior knowledge and, as mentioned, each student has a unique learning style and abilities. The same principles are true for any classroom. A teacher can address this by establishing clear learning goals and then providing the support and variety of activities necessary for students to accomplish the goal.

Scaffolding and differentiation can help accomplish learning goals. These terms are often confused with one another, so let's first define each teaching strategy and then discuss how they can work together effectively.


Say that you're introducing a lesson on rhyming to your kindergarten classroom. Would you simply read a passage to the students and ask them to tell you which words rhyme? Of course not. You would first explain to the students what rhyming is and provide them with examples. Then, when you first read the passage to the students, you may emphasize the words with the same ending sounds.

Put simply, scaffolding is providing students with supports. It is an instructional strategy used to aid student success through a step-by-step process. The teacher builds supports based upon what the students already know as new abilities are introduced. As the student begins to master the new abilities, the supports are removed. Scaffolding can be used to support individual student needs as well as whole group instruction.

In your kindergarten classroom, as students master the concept of rhyming, you will gradually stop reminding them what rhyming is and no longer provide modeling. You can then expect the students to work on rhyming activities without help and recognize rhyming words when you do not stress the ending sounds.


Let's say that you have a student in your class who is a visual learner and isn't mastering the idea of rhyming through verbal modeling. What can you do to see that this student's needs are being met? Differentiating instruction can improve this child's chances for success.

Differentiation involves making changes to instruction to address individual student needs and learning styles. Students have their own unique abilities and background knowledge that affect their readiness to learn. It is the teacher's responsibility to react responsively to each child's needs. A teacher can do this by changing any or all of the following:

  • The material a student is using
  • The activity (the task)
  • What the student is being asked to do

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