Scaffolds in education are like scaffolds on a building: they serve as a supporting framework for the structure.
Unlike differentiated instruction, which adjusts texts to students of differing abilities, scaffolding strategies can be used with all students, including students who struggle with reading at grade level. Scaffolding as an instructional concept was first mentioned in the 1976 paper, “The Role of Tutoring in Problem Solving,” in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. The authors defined scaffolding as:
“A process that enables a child or novice to solve a problem, carry out a task, or achieve a goal which would be beyond his unassisted efforts . . . scaffolding consists essentially of the adult “controlling” those elements of the task that are initially beyond the learner’s capacity, thus permitting him to concentrate upon and complete only those elements that are within his range of competence.”
This definition implies three interconnected concepts:
- Teacher modeling (showing the student how the problem is solved) is an important and necessary part of the scaffolding process.
- The student must be able to recognize a solution to a problem before they can independently produce the steps leading to it without expert assistance.
- All students must receive instruction using the same text with the ultimate goal that all have equal access to grade-level text.
When teachers employ scaffolding methods, all students in a class learn how to approach and comprehend grade-appropriate texts, since all receive the same text and the same instruction. This is an achievable goal because the teacher adds important instructional opportunities (scaffolds) to critical parts of the text and important moments of the lesson delivery. Students learn the process through these targeted teaching moments.
Scaffolding means students experience the text with all its nuances, such as grade-level vocabulary and grammatical or idiomatic expressions. Intentionally chosen and placed scaffolds provide multiple access points for students of different backgrounds and abilities to learn at the same time. Additionally, once students have stopped covering the basics of learning to read and are instead reading to learn, they can gradually manage and master the material’s content through just-right moments of challenge while also reinforcing their decoding and word knowledge skills.
Scaffolding does not replace the need for supplemental assistance for students who are struggling readers, but it does give these kids the same opportunities for knowledge and advancement that their on-grade-level peers enjoy.
Teachers: How do you employ scaffolding techniques in your classroom? What advice would you give to others who want to improve their instructional methods to include all students? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.
 James, Kandra MAT. (August 2021). “Reading Scaffolds: Instructional Tools for Our Focus Toward Grade-Level Reading.” Curriculum Associates Whitepaper. Retrieved from https://fs24.formsite.com/edweek/images/WP-CurriculumAssociates-Scaffolding_to_Achieve_Grade-Level_Literacy.pdf.