Literacy Scaffolding

Scaffolding is an instructional support technique often used in literacy learning. The term was first defined in 1976 by Wood, Bruner and Ross. They suggested that this could be a tool that tutors could use to assist learning.

“Scaffolding is breaking down complicated tasks or skills into small components that can be completed one at a time.” – R. Carlson, K. Padron & C. Andrews

It is important to allow the learner to complete as much of the task as possible unassisted. With this technique, the tutor only offers the student assistance with tasks that are just beyond their current capability.

This technique is effective when teaching both children and adults. It has many benefits including making tasks less stressful and helping students see their progress. Scaffolding is most effective when learners are practising and already have a mental model of what success looks like. This allows the student to avoid simply going through the motions of the task with little learning taking place. The teacher’s supports are gradually removed as the learner masters the task.

There are many kinds of scaffolds including think alouds, dialogue with peers, concrete prompts, coaching or modeling, activating background knowledge, giving cues, etc. The scaffolding tool used depends on the student and the task or skill they are struggling with.

“Crucial to successful scaffolding is an understanding of the student’s prior knowledge and abilities. The teacher must ascertain what the student already knows so that it can be ‘hooked’, or connected to the new knowledge and made relevant to the learner’s life, thus increasing the motivation to learn.” – Anne West

The video below by Alberta Education offers a great visual description of scaffolding.

Learn more about scaffolding by checking out the resources listed below.


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