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Scaffolding Instruction


The purpose of Scaffolding Instruction is to provide students who have learning problems a teacher supported transition from primarily seeing and hearing the teacher demonstrate & model a particular math concept/skill to performing the skill independently.

What is it?

  • Provides students who have learning problems the crucial learning support they need to move from initial acquisition of a math concept/skill toward independent performance of the math concept/skill.
  • Also referred to as "guided practice."
  • Relies both on your observation skills and on your decision-making skills.
  • Occurs after you have initially described and modeled the instructional concept/skill a multiple number of times.
  • Systematic fading of teacher modeling as students demonstrate they have initially acquired the concept/skill.
  • Teacher increases number of and difficulty level of questions for successive examples of target math concept/skill requiring students to demonstrate increased levels of understanding.
  • Immediate and specific feedback, both corrective feedback and positive reinforcement, is provided with each student response.
  • Process continues until students demonstrate complete understanding of math concept/skill and demonstrate they are ready to perform independently.
  • Decisions on when and how much to fade instruction are based on teacher observations of student behavior during the scaffolding process (i.e. accuracy of student responses & subtle verbal/nonverbal cues).

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What are the critical elements of this strategy?

  • Occurs after teacher initially describes & models concept/skill at least three times.
  • Teacher begins by modeling succeeding skill and providing a high level of direction: Teacher asks questions and answers questions.
  • Teacher gradually fades his/her direction as student(s) demonstrate increasing levels of competency in performing the skill: Teacher asks questions and students answer questions.
  • Teacher provides additional modeling as needed when students demonstrate non-understanding.
  • Students demonstrate they can perform skill with few or no teacher prompts: Students ask questions and students answer questions.
  • Throughout the process, the teacher provides immediate and specific feedback to students, including corrective feedback and ample amounts of positive reinforcement.

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How do I implement the strategy?

  1. Begin scaffolding after you have first directly described and modeled the skill at least three times.
  2. Perform the skill or learning task while asking questions aloud and answering them aloud (questions should pertain to specific essential features for specific problem solving steps). Choose one or two places during the problem solving process to question your students.
  3. Provide immediate and specific feedback as well as positive reinforcement with each student response.
  4. When students answer incorrectly, praise the student for his/her risk-taking and effort while also describing and modeling the correct response. When students answer correctly, always provide positive reinforcement by specifically stating what it is they did correctly.
  5. As your students demonstrate success in responding to one or two questions, then ask for an increased number of student responses with the next example. (Corrective and positive feedback continues as indicated by student responses).
  6. When your students demonstrate increased competence, continue to fade your direction, prompting students to complete more and more of the problem solving process. Eventually, you only ask questions and your students provide all the answers.
  7. When you are confident that your students understand the problem-solving process, invite them to actively problem-solve with you (students direct problem-solving students ask question, then both students and you respond).
  8. Let student accuracy of responses and student nonverbal behavior guide your decisions about when to continue fading your direction.

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How Does This Instructional Strategy Positively Impact Students Who Have Learning Problems?

  • Complements explicit teacher modeling by providing the necessary teacher support students who have learning problems need in order to take the necessary risks that are a part of initially learning a new math concept/skill.
  • Reduces math anxiety because of this teacher support.
  • Provides an effective way for students to gradually but thoroughly learn a math concept/skill, rather than being expected to automatically transfer what they see the teacher do to doing it independently. Learning characteristics such as memory problems, attention difficulties, and academic skill deficiencies make this expectation an unrealistic one.
  • Provides you the opportunity to evaluate student understanding during instruction, allowing you to remodel, provide corrective feedback, emphasize particular elements of the concept/skill before students are expected to do it independently.
  • Students are more confident and more successful during independent practice because they more thoroughly understand the math concept/skill due to the scaffolding process. This situation also reduces student (and teacher!) frustration.

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Additional Information

Research Support for the Instructional Features in this Strategy: Brophy & Good (1986); Baroody (1987); Paris & Winograd (1990); Borkowski (1992); Cobb, Yackel & Wood (1992); Hall (2001); Miller, Butler, & Lee (1998); Montague (1992); Polloway & Patton (1993); Kennedy & Tipps (1994); Mercer, Jordan & Miller (1996); Carnine, Dixon & Silbert (1998); Swanson (1999); Mercer & Mercer (2005).


Running times: total video 12:17; total elab 11:45; total clip 24:02

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Video Slideshow w/Audio Slideshow Script


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   Clip 1

   Teacher scaffolds instruction - Patterns (Kindergarten)

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   Clip 2

      Teacher scaffolds instruction - Order of Operations (Gr 4)

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Thanks to Ms. Lynn Williams at all of the Kindergarten students at Ft. Lewis Elementary, Roanoake Co. Schools!
Thanks to Maggie Kyger and the fourth grade students at Clymore Elementary School in Augusta County, VA!


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