ERIC Identifier: ED474301
Publication Date: 2002-12-00
Author: Larkin, Martha
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Disabilities and Gifted Education Arlington VA.
Using Scaffolded Instruction To Optimize Learning. ERIC Digest.
Today's responsible learners are challenged to (a) know how to learn, (b)
access changing information, (c) apply what is learned, and (d) address complex
real-world problems in order to be successful. The ultimate academic goal is for
students to become independent lifetime learners, so that they can continue to
learn on their own or with limited support. Scaffolded instruction optimizes
student learning by providing a supportive environment while facilitating
WHAT IS SCAFFOLDED INSTRUCTION?
The concept of scaffolding
(Bruner, 1975) is based on the work of Vygotsky, who proposed that with an
adult's assistance, children could accomplish tasks that they ordinarily could
not perform independently. Scaffolded instruction is "the systematic sequencing
of prompted content, materials, tasks, and teacher and peer support to optimize
learning" (Dickson, Chard, & Simmons, 1993.) Scaffolding is a process in
which students are given support until they can apply new skills and strategies
independently (Rosenshine & Meister, 1992). When students are learning new
or difficult tasks, they are given more assistance. As they begin to demonstrate
task mastery, the assistance or support is decreased gradually in order to shift
the responsibility for learning from the teacher to the students. Thus, as the
students assume more responsibility for their learning, the teacher provides
less support. For example, a young child or a child with physical disabilities
likely would need assistance when learning how to use a playground slide (Dixon,
1994). At first an adult might carry the child up the steps and slide with the
child several times. Then some of the scaffolding or support would be removed
when the adult placed the child on the lower portion of the slide and allowed
him or her to slide with little guidance. The adult would continue to remove the
scaffolding as the child demonstrated that he or she could slide longer
distances successfully without support.
Scaffolding is one of the principles
of effective instruction that enables teachers to accommodate individual student
needs (Kame'enui, Carnine, Dixon, Simmons, & Coyne, 2002). Hogan and
Pressley (1997) summarized the literature to identify eight essential elements
of scaffolded instruction that teachers can use as general guidelines. Note that
these elements do not have to occur in the sequence listed.
* Pre-engagement with the student and the curriculum. The teacher considers
curriculum goals and the students' needs to select appropriate tasks.
* Establish a shared goal. The students may become more motivated and
invested in the learning process when the teacher works with each student to
plan instructional goals.
* Actively diagnose student needs and understandings. The teacher must be
knowledgeable of content and sensitive to the students (e.g., aware of the
students' background knowledge and misconceptions) to determine if they are
* Provide tailored assistance. This may include cueing or prompting,
questioning, modeling, telling, or discussing. The teacher uses these as needed
and adjusts them to meet the students' needs.
* Maintain pursuit of the goal. The teacher can ask questions and request
clarification as well as offer praise and encouragement to help students remain
focused on their goals.
* Give feedback. To help students learn to monitor their own progress, the
teacher can summarize current progress and explicitly note behaviors that
contributed to each student's success.
* Control for frustration and risk. The teacher can create an environment in
which the students feel free to take risks with learning by encouraging them to
* Assist internalization, independence, and generalization to other contexts.
This means that the teacher helps the students to be less dependent on the
teacher's extrinsic signals to begin or complete a task and also provides the
opportunity to practice the task in a variety of contexts.
Larkin (2001) interviewed and observed teachers who scaffolded instruction to
help their students to become more independent learners. She found that these
teachers regularly incorporated several of the eight essential elements of
scaffolding into instruction. Other guidelines for effective scaffolding that
these teachers shared included the following:
* Begin with what the students can do. Students need to be aware of their
strengths and to feel good about tasks they can do with little or no assistance.
* Help students achieve success quickly. Although students need challenging
work in order to learn, frustration and a "cycle of failure" may set in quickly
if students do not experience frequent success.
* Help students to "be" like everyone else. Students want to be similar to
and accepted by their peers. If given the opportunity and support, some students
may work harder at tasks in order to appear more like their peers.
* Know when it is time to stop. Practicing is important to help students
remember and apply their knowledge, but too much may impede the learning. "Less
is more" may be the rule when students have demonstrated that they can perform
* Help students to be independent when they have command of the activity.
Teachers need to watch for clues from their students that show when and how much
teacher assistance is needed. Scaffolding should be removed gradually as
students begin to demonstrate mastery and then no longer provided when students
can perform the task independently.
SCAFFOLDING THROUGHOUT THE LESSON
In order to incorporate
scaffolding throughout the lesson, teachers may find the framework outlined by
Ellis & Larkin (1998) helpful.
* First, the teacher does it. In other words, the teacher models how to
perform a new or difficult task, such as how to use a graphic organizer. For
example, the teacher may have a partially completed graphic organizer on an
overhead transparency and "think aloud" as he or she describes how the graphic
organizer illustrates the relationships among the information contained on it.
* Second, the class does it. The teacher and students work together to
perform the task. For example, the students may suggest information to be added
to the graphic organizer. As the teacher writes the suggestions on the
transparency, students fill in their own copies of the organizer.
* Third, the group does it. Students work with a partner or a small
cooperative group to complete a graphic organizer (i.e., either a partially
completed or a blank one).
* Fourth, the individual does it. This is the independent practice stage
where individual students can demonstrate their task mastery (e.g., successfully
completing a graphic organizer to demonstrate appropriate relationships among
information) and receive the necessary practice to help them to perform the task
automatically and quickly.
For additional scaffolding tips, teachers may want to view the videotape, How
to Scaffold Instruction for Student Success (ASCD, 2002). See Beed, Hawkins,
& Roller (1991) for examples of teacher-student dialogue during scaffolded
SCAFFOLDING CHALLENGES AND CAUTIONS
can be used to optimize learning for all students, it is a very demanding form
of instruction (Pressley, Hogan, Wharton-McDonald, Mistretta, & Ettenberger
1996). The following are some challenges and cautions for scaffolding
* Use scaffolding when appropriate. Keep in mind that all students may not
need scaffolding for all tasks and materials. Provide scaffolding to those
students who need it only when they need it.
* Be knowledgeable of the curriculum. This will enable you to determine the
difficulty level of particular materials and tasks as well as the time and
supports necessary to benefit students.
* Practice generating possible prompts to help students. The first prompt you
give to a student may fail, so you may have to give another prompt or think of a
different wording to help the student give an appropriate response.
* Be positive, patient, and caring. You may become discouraged if students do
not respond or are not successful as a result of your initial scaffolding
efforts. Continue to convey a positive tone of voice in a caring manner along
with continued scaffolding efforts and student success soon may be evident.
Association for Supervision and Curriculum
Development (Producer). (2002). How to scaffold instruction for student success.
[videotape]. (available from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum
Development, 1703 North Beauregard Street, Alexandria, VA 22311-1714).
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Dixon, R. (1994). Research-based guidelines for selecting a mathematics
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Dickson, S. V., Chard, D. J., & Simmons, D. C. (1993). An integrated
reading/writing curriculum: A focus on scaffolding. LD Forum, 18(4), 12-16.
Ellis, E. S., & Larkin, M. J. (1998). Strategic instruction for
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learning disabilities (2nd ed., pp. 585-656). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
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Kame'enui, E. J., Carnine, D. W., Dixon, R. C., Simmons, D. C., & Coyne,
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scaffolded instruction. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 34(1), 30-34.
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Ettenberger, S. (1996). The challenges of instructional scaffolding: The
challenges of instruction that supports student thinking. Learning Disabilities
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