Implementing the Power of Scaffolding in
Higher Education

Jenning Prevatte, M. Ed.

Recently I presented at a conference on the Power of Scaffolding in Higher Education. You may be asking, what is scaffolding? Or thinking, scaffolding, yay, I do that! In my presentation, participants took a deeper dive into what scaffolding is, the key elements of scaffolding, and how it works.

So, what is it?

Scaffolding is a systematic process that supports teaching and learning. This approach can be particularly effective in higher education, where students are often expected to learn complex concepts and skills relatively quickly. Through my research, I define scaffolding as a systematic process that provides temporary and adjustable strategies integrated into the learning progression to support students' knowledge, skills, and abilities that align with the course learning outcomes. 

It involves breaking up the learning task into smaller, more manageable chunks through low-stakes tasks, experimentation, approximating, and reflection. As students’ progress, they perform the task independently as the instructor fades the scaffolds away. Scaffolding should be temporary and flexible to meet the student's needs. It is not a one-size fits all.

This teaching technique involves supporting learners as they engage in complex or unfamiliar tasks. The idea is to provide just enough assistance to help learners succeed while gradually reducing the level of support as they become more confident and competent.

How Scaffolding Works

Step 1: Create a mental model of what mastery looks, feels, and sounds like -

Step 2: Goal setting, as best as you can, co-create goals with students based on the mental model -

Step 3:Iinstructors implement learning tasks and practice to support the learning process – HEART of scaffolding -

Step 4: Instructors decrease and adapt scaffolds as students get closer to mastery, ultimately fading scaffolds away -

Scaffolding is integrated through intentional learning tasks and practice through various methods, such as:

Are you ready to enhance your teaching practice by implementing the power of scaffolding? Here are some common scaffolding techniques used in teaching:

Scaffolding is a powerful technique for supporting learning, particularly for complex or unfamiliar tasks. By providing learners with the right level of support and guidance, educators can help them develop the skills and confidence they need to succeed. Scaffolding improves retention and understanding of the content. Remember, scaffolding should be intentional and placed in key areas of the curriculum.

Looking for a great book to dig deeper into the power of scaffolding? I recommend, How Scaffolding Works, a Playbook for Supporting and Releasing Responsibility to Students by Nancy Frey, Douglas Fisher, and John Almarode. 

Plus, I created a cheat sheet. You can download it from my Effective Teaching Toolkit.

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