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It is no secret among teachers that we are a tired group. We are dedicated, passionate, sympathetic, creative, and smart, loving people. We work long hours – arriving well before we are scheduled and staying long after the clock says it’s time to go home. We work tirelessly to meet the needs of our students, to teach the standards, to prepare for the tests, to follow the law, and to meet deadlines, all while modeling how a good human behaves—no matter how tired that human might be. So why, one might ask, would any teacher want to add another item to their to-do list? Scaffolding assignments—long or short— will require more work for the teacher. It takes analyzing, planning, and the creating of documents to support the structure. Why would a teacher put additional time and effort into scaffolding their tried and true assignments?

Short answer: scaffolding makes everyone involved better.

What is Scaffolding

Scaffolding in education is a teacher-directed process that breaks large tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks, and uses frameworks or tools to complete them. How exactly the task is broken down is dependent upon the makeup of the class, the goals of the teacher, and the desired outcomes for the class. These outcomes can be based on the curriculum frameworks, the school or department learning goals, or very specific to the needs of the students in the class. Although the goal for each assignment may vary, repetition in process is important. Using a repetitive framework or tool, such as a graphic organizer, outline, self-editing checklist, or grading rubric, and building each task off the one before, allows for a smooth transition to increasingly challenging tasks while simultaneously increasing independence.

Although more frequent, smaller tasks provide greater potential for independence, there are more frequent checkpoints, due dates, or opportunities for revision with the teacher. This allows the teacher to see exactly where the student is having trouble; each step in the process lets the teacher see where the student went wrong. The teacher then has time to provide the additional support or clarity the student needs before misconceptions hinder the student’s progress as a whole.

Long-term assignments can be especially challenging for students with executive function disorder or executive function challenges. Executive functioning refers to the eight key skills necessary for successful completion of tasks: impulse control, emotional control, flexible thinking, working memory, self-monitoring, planning and prioritizing, task initiation, and organization. Students who have ADHD, Dyslexia, mood disorders, neurological conditions or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often struggle with executive functioning. Scaffolding minimizes the effects of these challenges by providing ongoing feedback, support, and structure from start to finish.

Scaffolding assignments also allows teachers to identify students who need more significant interventions. Sometimes teachers will find that despite structured and less complex cognitive tasks, a student is still not able to be successful. This may be the result of a previously diagnosed disability or something that has gone unnoticed. These students may require differentiated instruction. Differentiated instruction is different from scaffolding in that the lessons will be modified for content (what the student needs to know), process (what the student needs to do in order to learn the content), product (how the student demonstrates what they have learned), or learning environment (the location where the learning takes place or how the classroom is set up). This may mean that a student requires an entirely separate text at a different reading level in order to access the curriculum.

What Does Scaffolding Look Like?

Imagine a teacher, Mr. X, decides that by the end of the semester, his class will read Lord of the Flies and write a five-paragraph essay that discusses the significance of three symbols and how they change over the course of the novel. Great. That’s a solid assignment that requires comprehension, analysis, and critical thinking. Not to mention the reading, writing, composition, and organizational skills required to execute the assignment. Because of the varied levels of students in any classroom, writing this assignment on the blackboard, handing out a copy of the novel, and sending them on their way will yield, by semester’s end, dramatically different results from student to student. Not to mention, half of the class may enter into a state of panic or denial.

If this same teacher were to scaffold his assignment, his final project or goal, “Students will read Lord of the Flies, and write a five-paragraph essay that discusses the significance of three symbols and how they change over the course of the novel”, would be used as a starting point for planning. First, he would ask himself, “What do my students need to be able to do in order to meet the goal?” and, just as important, “What can they do now?”.

Read about the specifics of Mr. X's scaffolding process.

Bloom’s Taxonomy of the cognitive learning domain is an excellent resource for defining goals and objectives. By first identifying the skills necessary to achieve the stated goal, the teacher can then focus on how to develop those specific skills, working backwards to identify the base skills necessary to reach the goal. Direct instruction in these skills can be provided in the small tasks that lead to the culminating product.

Bloom’s Taxonomy - Cognitive Domain

  • Recall information
  • Mastery of subject matter
list, define, tell, describe, identify, show, label, collect, examine, record, name, underline
  • Understanding information
  • Interpret facts, predict consequences
  • Translate knowledge into new context
interpret, predict, associate, estimate, differentiate, discuss, recognize, review, locate, extend
  • Use information
  • Solve problems using required skills and knowledge
apply, demonstrate, calculate, illustrate, solve, examine, modify, manipulate, discover, practice
  • Seeing patterns
  • Organization of parts
  • Recognition of meaning
connect, explain, classify, arrange, compare, select, relate, solve, categorize
  • Generalize from given facts
  • Relate knowledge from several areas
  • Draw conclusions
design, formulate, arrange, assemble, construct, create, organize, rearrange, combine, integrate, compose, generalize
  • Compare and discriminate between ideas
  • Assess value of information based on criteria
  • Make choices based on reasoned argument
assess, rank, test, measure, recommend, judge, appraise, justify, summarize, support
  • Combining elements into a pattern not clearly there before
create, invent, compose, predict, plan, construct, design, imagine, propose, devise, formulate, combine, hypothesize

Adapted from

Once the teacher has defined the goal and the skills necessary to reach the goal, the teacher would create a set of tasks or assignments, each with a specific goal or focused on the learning of a new skill necessary to complete the task.

How to Use Think-Aloud Strategies to Model Thought Processes and Scaffold Learning


Choose a Target Skill or Concept

Identify a specific skill or concept that you want to teach or reinforce through think-aloud strategies. It could be anything from problem-solving in math to analyzing a text in literature.


Model the Thought Process

Perform the task yourself while verbalizing your thinking process aloud. Explain each step, decision, and reasoning behind your actions. Make sure to pause and highlight key points that demonstrate effective thinking strategies.


Demonstrate Self-Regulation

Explicitly show how you monitor and regulate your own thinking. Discuss strategies for overcoming challenges, managing frustration, or adjusting strategies when needed. This helps students develop metacognitive skills and become more independent learners.


Invite Student Participation

Gradually involve students by encouraging them to think along with you or contribute their thoughts. Ask open-ended questions that promote critical thinking and discussion. Encourage them to share their ideas, observations, and alternative approaches.


Provide Guided Practice

Give students opportunities to practice the skill or concept with your support. As they work independently or in small groups, provide guidance, offer prompts, and ask probing questions to scaffold their thinking. Monitor their progress and provide constructive feedback.


Foster Independent Application

Gradually release responsibility to the students, allowing them to apply the skill or concept independently. Encourage them to use think-aloud strategies themselves as they tackle new problems or engage with complex tasks. Offer ongoing support and feedback as needed.

Frequently Asked Questions about Scaffolding in Education

What is scaffolding in education?

Scaffolding is an approach in education where teachers guide students by breaking down complex tasks into smaller, more achievable tasks, and provide them with the necessary tools or frameworks to accomplish them. This approach enables students to enhance their skills, knowledge, and comprehension while simultaneously gaining independence, with continuous feedback, support, and structure provided throughout the process.

Why is scaffolding important in education?

Scaffolding is important because it allows teachers to identify students who need more significant interventions and support, minimizes the effects of executive function challenges, and provides ongoing feedback, support, and structure from start to finish. Scaffolding also helps students develop skills, knowledge, and understanding and increases independence while completing tasks.

What does scaffolding look like in the classroom?

Scaffolding in the classroom involves breaking large tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks, and using frameworks or tools to complete them. For example, a teacher might use graphic organizers, outlines, self-editing checklists, or grading rubrics to help students complete tasks. The teacher provides ongoing feedback, support, and structure, and adjusts the scaffolding as necessary to meet the needs of individual students.

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