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7 Ways to Use Scaffolding in the Classroom

Imagine purchasing a dining room table from a furniture store only for it to arrive at your home, disassembled—with no instructions. Without guidance on constructing the table, you'd likely become frustrated and discouraged. This is how students can feel when presented with too much information at once. 

Luckily, scaffolding can help complex STEM concepts feel more approachable to kids. We are going to explore the importance of scaffolding as a tool in education and how teachers can use it in the classroom.

What is Scaffolding? 

So what exactly is scaffolding in education? Scaffolding is a method of teaching that breaks down each learning opportunity into manageable chunks. This helps students achieve a stronger understanding of topics, resulting in independent thinking

In a STEM classroom, an example of this could be a teacher sharing a new math concept with their class. After discussing the concept, the teacher may have the class practice what they've learned in a group setting before providing them an assignment to complete independently. This is sometimes referred to as the "I do. We do. You do." method and is a great example of scaffolding in action. 

Why Scaffolding?

The scaffolding theory is something most educators do a bit of naturally. But, when planned purposefully, this strategy becomes an empowering tool to help unlock students' capabilities. One of the primary benefits of scaffolding techniques is that it creates a supportive learning environment. Scaffolding encourages students to ask questions, support their peers, and think independently— all of which help students take ownership of their education. 

Technology and engineering problems require creative solutions. When students use cross-curricular applications in their learning, they are capable of thinking through issues from a variety of lenses. Scaffolding encourages students to apply multiple subjects to their solutions, helping to break through knowledge silos and increase creativity. 

How to Implement Scaffolding in the Classroom

Now that you understand what scaffolding is and why it's beneficial for your students, what are some ways you can implement this teaching style in your classroom? Outlined below are seven scaffolding in education examples to help inspire your lesson planning.  

Break It Down

New concepts can feel overwhelming at first. Rather than asking students to solve a complicated engineering problem up front, break the problem down into smaller tasks. Turning each task into a mini-lesson helps challenging topics feel more approachable and slowly moves students toward a deeper understanding of the topic. 

Demonstrate New Skills

65% of people feel their learning is best supported by visual reinforcements like images and videos. So simply telling your students how to do something may not be the most effective by itself. Instead, visually demonstrate new concepts to your class. For example, if you are teaching your class a new mathematical skill, have students watch you solve a math problem using this skill first. 

Use Prior Knowledge as a Base 

A key component of scaffolding is tapping into your class's prior knowledge. Since each student may have a different level of understanding of the topic at hand, multiple examples, scenarios, and explanations will be needed to connect with all students. Teachers can also ask students to share their own assumptions and experiences about how a concept relates to their lives. If you're struggling to engage students, providing a few leading hints to help them make connections can help. Once these connections are made, they'll have an easier time grasping the content. 

Teach Vocabulary Ahead of Time 

Academic vocabulary, especially in STEM, can throw students for a loop. When they encounter an assignment full of words they don't understand, it can quickly become discouraging. Going over tricky vocabulary ahead of time can help prepare students to better understand challenging text. 

Give Them Time to Talk 

Giving students time to verbally process what they've learned can help them better understand new concepts. In fact, studies have found that peer discussion tends to boost learning in most students. Facilitate conversation by having students break off into smaller groups to talk through questions and ideas. Then have everyone come back together as a class to share what they've learned. This gives students time to process their thoughts and discover new ideas from their classmates. 

Provide Opportunities for Practice 

After demonstrating new skills and giving students time to ask questions, it's time to practice what they've learned. In a classroom setting, this may be having individual students complete a practice problem on the board while the rest of the class follows along. Outside of the classroom, this could look like at-home assignments that test your students' knowledge. You can also use these assignments to gauge where your students may need scaffolding. 

Ask Open-Ended Questions 

Nearly all technology and engineering problems have multiple solutions. Asking open-ended questions encourages students to develop their own solutions to STEM problems instead of looking for the "right answer." Examples of questions teachers can ask students include "What would happen if…?" or "What do you see as other possible outcomes for…?" 

Without breaking complex STEM concepts down into bite-sized chunks, students can quickly become overwhelmed. To help your class better understand new ideas, try incorporating a few scaffolding techniques into your lesson plans. You may be surprised at how well your students remember new concepts.

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