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Helping All Learners: Scaffolding

What are the benefits of effective scaffolding?

The combination of respectful learning standards and an excellent curriculum is a powerful place to begin the exciting work of helping all learners succeed. However, the needs of some students for processing new learning require thoughtful scaffolding.

A scaffold is a temporary support provided to students to help them achieve a learning goal. Scaffolds are distinct from accommodations or modifications.

An accommodation is similar in concept to a scaffold, but it is usually a legally mandated instructional requirement. An example of an accommodation would be "extra time" on a summative assessment.

A modification goes deeper than a scaffold, and changes the actual content and/or learning standards for students. A modification may be found on a student's Individualized Education Plan, or IEP.

Your problem is to bridge the gap which exists between where you are now and the goal you intend to reach. Earl Nightingale, author and entertainer

Scaffolds should be...

  • Sensitive to students’ strengths and challenges.
  • Standards-based.  
  • In alignment with learning targets (objectives).
  • Applied to the process of meeting the learning target.
  • Temporary.
  • Used to provide a student with necessary supports to accomplish a task that is not otherwise possible.
  • Appropriate to the task.
  • Respectful for all learners.

EL Education regards successful scaffolding of instruction, then, as a matter of the intersection of instructional tasks, the grade-level standards, and the needs of individual students.

Learning Targets

  • I can describe a variety of effective scaffolds that maintain the rigor of the Common Core and other standards.
  • I can explain the benefits of effectively scaffolding a lesson for students.

Watch: Teaching Matters: Scaffolding

  1. What are the benefits of effective scaffolding for students? What practices do you currently have in place to support your students?
  2. What professional support might you need in providing scaffolding for your students?

eMedia Workshop. (2012, September 17). *Teaching Matters: Scaffolding.* Retrieved October 23, 2015 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gNjGD_W3dM.


Digging Deeper on Differentiation Strategies: This excerpt is from EL Education’s text Transformational Literacy (download on this page.)

  1. Think about the students you teach. Which type of scaffolding, front-end or back-end, is preferable in helping these students meet the rigorous standards of the Common Core? Explain.
  2. What are the benefits for students when you effectively scaffold a lesson? What are the challenges for you, the teacher, in offering scaffolded experiences for your students?
  3. Think about an upcoming lesson and the students you teach. How might you scaffold the process for some students toward meeting the learning target(s)?

Three-Level Approach to Scaffolding Can Be Applied to the Teaching of Math: This article, from Educational Research Newsletter and Webinars, proposes a three-level hierarchy of scaffolding practices that strategically support mathematics learning.

  1. What environmental provisions can support students in a mathematical classroom?
  2. Why are reviewing and restructuring math concepts more powerful than telling, showing, and explaining a math concept?
  3. Compare your experiences with developing mathematical thinking within your students. What strategies might you add to your toolbox?

Watch: Learning to Think: A Foundation for Analysis

This video from the Teaching Channel, showcases lessons being delivered by Sarah Brown Wessling, National Teacher of the Year. Consider how she is scaffolding the instruction for her students. What are her critical moves that help her students reach the learning target? Discuss with a partner or journal on your own.

Watch: Scaffolding Literacy Instruction for English Language Learners

  1. How do the teachers scaffold literacy instruction for their English Language Learners? What are the conscientious decisions they make to help all students access complex text?
  2. Observe the cycle of close reading: reading, thinking, talking, and writing. Reflect on or discuss the following:
  3. Why is each part of the close reading cycle critical for comprehension?
  4. Consider your typical lesson around teaching comprehension. How closely do your lessons mirror the cycle highlighted in the video? What might be your next steps in designing or implementing a close reading lesson?
  5. How are the scaffolds in the lessons good strategies for all learners? How might you accelerate more ready learners in a classroom?

Quiz: ELA Scaffolding Scenarios

Click here to go to the scaffolding scenarios. Read each scenario and then decide if the scaffold applied by the teacher maintains alignment to the Common Core ELA shifts or negatively affects alignment to the Common Core ELA shifts. Click to reveal the answer on the next slide.


Resources to Help Teachers Scaffold Lessons

Continuum of Interventions: A tool developed by EL Education to assist teachers in spontaneous interventions as well as low-preparation and high-preparation scaffolds for ELA. The spontaneous interventions might fit the category of “scaffolds.” Many of the interventions at the more planful end of the continuum fit the category of tiering, which is described more fully on the next page.

Scaffolding Options for ELA: A quick reference guide from EL Education naming appropriate ways to scaffold ELA activities while maintaining alignment to the CCLS.

Dig Deeper


Additional Work with Complex Texts: This resource, developed by EL Education, is designed to help school leaders, instructional coaches, general education teachers, special education teachers, and intervention teachers think and plan together about strategic ways to best use additional support time beyond the ELA block (download from this page).  

Scaffolds for Learning: The Key to Guided Instruction: Appearing in an ASCD publication, this chapter from Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey’s book Guided Instruction offers insight into the brain science of the effects of instructional scaffolding, along with guidelines for supporting students.

Cultivating Students’ Ability to Read Complex Texts Independently: This text is excerpted from New York State’s Revised Publisher’s Criteria for the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy, Grades 3–8, by David Coleman and Susan Pimentel (download on this page). 


For Teachers:

  1. Time is a luxury for most teachers. As you consider an upcoming lesson, think about some low-prep scaffolds you can include to support learners. What steps do you need to take to be sure that these scaffolds maintain the rigor of the Common Core Standards?
  2. What are the most essential considerations, or things to attend to, when planning to use scaffolds in a lesson? Predict the impact that these scaffolds will have on student success.
  3. What seems particularly challenging to you when planning for the use of scaffolds?

For School Leaders:

  1. What support might teachers need in moving students toward more challenging work required by the Common Core while simultaneously ensuring students are receiving appropriate scaffolds?
  2. As an instructional leader, how will you ensure that teachers’ scaffolds are aligned to the rigor of the Common Core Standards?
  3. Using the method of scaffolding, how can you gradually help teachers improve in their practice?

Resource Downloads

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