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Scaffolding in Teaching: Tips & Strategies

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  • 0:00 Scaffolding in Teaching
  • 1:08 Scaffolding Strategies
  • 3:15 Scaffolding Tips
  • 4:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Andrew Diamond

Andrew has worked as an instructional designer and adjunct instructor. He has a doctorate in higher education and a master's degree in educational psychology.

In this lesson we'll cover some strategies and tips involved in scaffolding your students' learning. Scaffolding is defined, as is its supporting theory, and a short quiz follows.

Scaffolding in Teaching

Put on your hardhats ladies and gentlemen; we're about to build something. What are we building? Knowledge, of course! Today we're going to cover some basic tips and strategies you can use in the classroom to support your students as they learn challenging subject matter.

The idea of scaffolding, or providing assistance to students as they work on material outside of their comfort zone, has been around since the 1960s. The idea stems from work done in the early 1900s by Lev Vygotsky, a noted Russian psychologist. Vygotsky proposed that learning occurs best in an area he called the zone of proximal development, which is the area between what learners can do unaided and what they cannot do. For example, young students are capable of spelling simple three- and four-letter words by themselves; however, they cannot spell longer more complicated words. The zone for their proximal development might be spelling simple five-letter words that build on the four-letter words they already know. The teacher (that's you, remember!) supports this activity by providing scaffolding.

Scaffolding Strategies

There are many strategies that can be employed in scaffolding, and some work better for some subjects, students, or teachers. All teachers need a little time to find their rhythm and figure out what they like. Here are a few strategies which have been successful for me in the past.

Prior Knowledge: This is many teachers' favorite way to support student learning. If you can connect a lesson to what students already know, it will help them understand in a big, big way. Many teachers have had huge success in working with students who are having a hard time understanding fractions by utilizing money. A lot of children think they can't understand the concept until they realize they already know the basics!

Pre-Teach: If you're dealing with a lesson you know will have lots of tricky concepts or vocabulary, this can be really helpful. Go over the words or concepts, supporting them with some other scaffolding strategies, before diving into the main lesson. This reduces student confusion, and the repetition helps them remember the subject matter.

Visual Aids: Alright, we're not exactly reinventing the wheel with this one, but it really does help a lot of learners to have something to visually connect to the material. In fact, if you can bring in other senses (as in touching, tasting, and smelling), this can help increase the retention of the information with your students. Be very careful with this one, since you don't want your students licking everything they're trying to remember.

Show Instead of Tell: You might have heard this idea from friends who were in writing or acting classes. The idea is that your audience/students connect more with what they are shown. It's the difference between reading a play and seeing it acted out. This can involve all sorts of activities, from visual aids to role playing to costumes. Have fun with it!

Think Aloud: Have your students - with your support, of course - talk through their thought process. Not only does this help them employ critical thinking skills, you can help them out in the process by prompting them or guiding their thinking. Though you have to be careful, since you don't want to just straight up give them the answer.

Scaffolding Tips

We could just combine 'tips' and 'strategies', but would you have understood 'trapegies'? I didn't think so. Here are a few hints that aren't complete enough to really call strategies.

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