Scaffolding describes the support that leads to learner development and, ultimately, learner autonomy. Effective scaffolding helps learners to construct knowledge and perform tasks beyond their current capacity thus building confidence and capability and enabling learners to perform more advanced tasks once the scaffolding support is removed.
Guidelines for effective scaffolding
Scaffolding should be carefully planned to develop learners’ capability to achieve a defined goal and to undertake more complex problems in the future. You should attempt to:
- challenge learners with tasks which are beyond their capacity. Match ‘high challenge’ tasks with relevant ‘high support’. If the support is poor or unavailable, learners will soon lose interest, be frustrated or lose confidence.
- avoid low challenge tasks which could be perceived as futile, uninteresting and 'busy work'.
Scaffolding is a four-stage process that moves students beyond their current skill and knowledge level. Scaffolding must occur in a supported learning environment.
Estimate the knowledge and skills learners currently have, including what a learner can do with guidance and assistance and what the same learner can accomplish without that.
Familiarise learners with a new task they cannot do on their own. Model the performance of the task. Learners work with you and with each other on similar tasks to become acquainted with it.
Design learning activities and formative assessment tasks (practice activities, sub-tasks, reference resources, templates, examples, graphic organisers, flow charts etc) for learners to access as they work on tasks that are more complex than the one previously undertaken, and build their capability.
At this stage, learners are able to independently demonstrate mastery of the task, unaided by the instructor. Summative assessments may fall into this category.
Scaffolding for assessment
Assessment is a critical area where scaffolding learners is necessary. Formative assessment is a common strategy that instructors use to move learning forward. Generally, the higher the stakes, the stronger the scaffolding required. A suggested process would be to:
- Critique all assessments individually and across the unit. Make a list of the prerequisite knowledge and skills necessary to successfully complete each assessment.
- Decide whether it is reasonable to expect learners to have these prerequisite knowledge and skills. If not, these are the skills and content that need scaffolding.
- Review the unit to identify where such learning experiences can be purposefully introduced.
- Develop a series of learning experiences and a variety of activities specifically targeted to build the necessary knowledge and skills and give students the opportunity to learn and practice before attempting the summative assessments.
- Design and sequence a series of sub-tasks within a high-challenge task (eg. a summative assessment) ensuring that the support is commensurate with the challenge.
- Provide a curriculum map demonstrating the relevance of the scaffolding activities and how they are designed build learners’ capability towards undertaking the assessments.
- Offer alternative and additional scaffolding experiences for those learners who have not demonstrated the required understanding as part of formative feedback.
Select short readings to embed in before-class activities and direct attention to specific aspects to make notes on. This could be done using an H5P document builder with questions to answer while reading.
The short answer research questions can then be revisited during class discussion and later used to build longer written responses in the form of illustrating central concepts in essays and journal type assessment tasks.
Use after-class revision activities (e.g. H5P Interactive Learning Objects) to highlight an understanding of key material.
Provide templates for research projects for the group to contribute to throughout the block, culminating in a group report and presentation. This could be a Google Doc/Wiki with structured heading sections.
- Be critical of the scaffolding assistance you provide. Not all assistance is helpful - it can create a dependency for support.
- Learners should be able to stand alone as a result of undertaking the scaffolding process and be independent rather than be reliant on the instructor for support. Gradually decrease the support and shift the responsibility for learning to the learner.
- Design tasks that require learners to transfer their learning to other related tasks that are at a level more sophisticated or complex.
Want to know more?
- Scaffolding your students' learning, Inclusive Teaching in higher Education (2018), University of Wollongong.
- Zone of Proximal Development and Scaffolding in the Classroom. Psychology 102: Educational Psychology.
- Wilson, K. & Devereux, L. (2014). Scaffolding theory: High challenge, high support in academic language and learning (ALL). Journal of Academic Language & Learning. 8(3) 91-100.