What Is Instructional Scaffolding?

Originated from Wood, Bruner and Ross's works (1976), the term 'scaffolding' was developed as a metaphor to describe the type of assistance offered by a teacher or peer to support learning. In the scaffolding process, the teacher assists the student in mastering an assigned task or concept that a student cannot grasp independently in the initial stage.

The teacher assists with only those skills that are beyond the student's capability.

What is Instructional Scaffolding?

In classes where instructional Scaffolding is practised, student errors are expected and accepted, but with teacher feedback and prompting, the student can achieve the task or goal. When the student is near to or masters the task, the teacher begins the process of "fading", or say, the gradual removal of the Scaffolding, which allows them to work independently.

Precisely, Scaffolding is a bridge used to build on what the students already know to get to something they do not know. If the scaffold is properly administered, it will act as a facilitator, not an enabler" (Benson, 1997).

The process of Scaffolding is based on Lev Vygotsky's concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). This is the distance between what children can do by themselves and the next learning when they can be helped to achieve with competent assistance. Vygotsky said, "children who can perform their tasks at a particular cognitive level in cooperation and collaboration with others and with adults will be able to perform at a higher level. And this difference between the two levels is the child's Zone of Proximal Development". He defined scaffolding instruction as the "role of teachers and others in supporting the learner's development and providing support structures to get to the next stage or level."

What are the types of Scaffolding Instruction?

Scaffolding has mainly three features


In contingency, as a scaffolder, the teacher continually assesses students' performance and provides appropriate assistance in specific tasks according to students' current strengths and weaknesses in handling textual information.


In this case, the teacher gradually withdraws support as students become self-reliant at a certain point in time. They become sufficiently competent to carry out their duties on their own. This is the phase where teacher support is no longer needed.

Transfer of responsibility

In the transfer of responsibility, the execution of tasks is progressively transferred from the teacher to the students, which is normally called the cognitive and metacognitive activities of the students.

Why Instructional Scaffolding?

Instructional Scaffolding emphasizes the active participation of students and a greater degree of control on the part of students over their learning, making the learning significantly more effective and helps them develop cognitively. It also helps students become self-regulated, independent and problem solvers that help upgrade students' learning outcomes, quality, and cognitive development.

Another main benefit – it provides a supportive and conducive learning environment to the students where they not only can freely ask questions, also provide feedback, support their peers in learning new material and hold themselves more accountable and responsible towards their duties; also, equally, make them move beyond their current skills and knowledge levels. The successful implementation of Scaffolding in the classroom makes students explain and justify their solutions.

Further, it enhances, encourages, and enables learning and helps students implement constructivism in the classroom is Scaffolding. Additionally, it assists students to build on prior knowledge and helps them to internalize new information.

In Scaffolding, the teacher is free to use different concepts, materials, tools, and technologies to support students in their learning activities anytime.

What are the characteristics and critical features of scaffolding instruction?

According to Lange (2002), instructional scaffolds consist of two main stages:

(1) Development of teaching plans to provide students with a better understanding of what they already know.

(2) Implementation of plans, in which the instructor provides support to students in every learning process.

On the other side, as per the citation by Zhao and Orey (1999), there are five features:

Intentional: The task has a clear general purpose that guides any distinct activity to contribute to the whole.

Appropriateness: Teaching tasks pose problems that can be solved with help but which students cannot carry out themselves.

Structure: Modelling and challenge activities are structured around a model of task-appropriate approaches that lead to a natural sequence of thoughts and language.

Collaboration: The teacher's response to the student's work reframes and develops the students' efforts without rejecting what they have done on their own. The primary role of the teacher is to work collaboratively rather than through evaluation.

Internalization: The outdoor Scaffolding for the activity is gradually removed as students internalize the models.

What are the methods of Instructional Scaffolding?


Modeling is a cornerstone of Instructional Scaffolding. Lange (2002), citing Hogan and Pressley (1997), define the Modeling process as "teaching behaviour which tells how one should think, feel or act within a given situation."

There are three types of Modeling.

Think-aloud Modeling

This strategy gives auditory substance to the thought processes associated with a task. It will allow students to model their thinking process as the teacher reads a text, solves a problem, or conceives a project. Remember that children's cognitive abilities are still developing, so it is essential to have the opportunity to see critical thinking developed. 

Talk-aloud Modeling

It involves verbalizing the thought process or problem-solving strategy while demonstrating the task. It is a strategy in which the teacher can verbally describe his/her thought processes while demonstrating the correct way to subtract two-digit numbers on the board.

Performance Modeling

Performance modeling requires no verbal instruction. It is more like the show and tells.

However, when modeling, the instructor should provide explanations. These explanations must openly address the learner's understanding of what is being learned, why and when it is being used, and how it is being used. Initially, the explanations are detailed and complete and often repeated. As the learner progresses in their knowledge, explanations can be limited to keywords and messages to help them remember important information.

Encourage student participation

This is recommended at the beginning of the Scaffolding. This technique enhances the participation and appropriation of students in the learning process. It provides the instructor with an opportunity to emphasize or correct understanding of the task. Also leads to verification and clarification of student comprehension.

As students familiarize themselves with the new materials, teachers must evaluate their understanding and provide positive and corrective feedback.

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About the Author
Author: Saniya Khan
Saniya Khan I am Saniya Khan, Copy-Editor at EdTechReview - India’s leading edtech media. As a part of the group, my aim is to spread awareness on the growing edtech market by guiding all educational stakeholders on latest and quality news, information and resources. A voraciously curious writer with a dedication to excellence creates interesting yet informational pieces, playing with words since 2016.

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