Spotlight on Strategies

By: Kailee Fowler

Scaffolding Background

Scaffolding and working in cooperative learning groups in each student’s zone of proximal development is one strategy that Vygotsky has to students who struggle with difficult concepts (Slavin, 2014). "Scaffolding refers to a variety of instructional techniques used to move students progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in the learning process" (Slavin, 2014).The zone of proximal development is the “distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers" (Frederick, Courtney, & Caniglia, 2014). One study consisting of 50 middle school students found that if students are struggling with problem solving, “students can improve their problem solving skill with an increased focus on conceptual knowledge” (Frederick, Courtney, & Caniglia, 2014). This study gave support to Vygotsky’s theories as the results showed that scaffolding using peer grouping, graphic organizers, and reflections helped students improve their problem solving skills (Frederick, Courtney, & Caniglia, 2014).

Students can develop cognitively using Vygotsky's ideas of mediation and scaffolding within their zone of proximal development as teachers probe and model strategies in whole group, small group, and individual practices. Using Vygotsky’s ideas of cooperative learning and reciprocal teaching, small learning groups can foster group talk and questions so that each student can discuss and learn from each other (Slavin, 2014). Thinking strategies can be assessed and modified in school and online through Pearson Education and Envision Math as students are assigned materials at their own pace. Strategies used to promote a self-regulated learner are; tutoring by competent peers, providing hints and prompts throughout instruction, scaffolding as the student becomes the teacher and the teacher becomes the facilitator, and providing many cooperative learning activities for students to work with others who may have a better understanding of the concepts (Slavin, 2014). All students should move from mediation to self-regulation as they learn and develop a sense for understanding. With encouragement, mediation, scaffolding, and prompting, students should gradually become individual learners (Slavin, 2014).

Scaffolding in My Classroom

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Story Stones

Scaffolding using story starters helps students begin their writing prompts and spark their imaginations. With this activity students grab three rocks out of a crate. The rocks have pictures on one side and words on the other side. The students must brainstorm first on one side of their paper (write the three words, setting, problem, solution, main idea) and then begin their story on the other side of their paper. Scaffolding helps the teacher keep control of the lesson, achieve the writing and reading goals, as well as model the lesson for student success. Students then type their final drafts, add pictures, print and share their creative stories.
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Student Leaders

Scaffolding using student leaders helps give more responsibility to learners. Students who are assigned as student leaders "teach" the lesson as I facilitate from the back of the room. Students enjoy this "flipped" classroom approach because each student has a unique way of explaining the same concepts. In this way, different learners benefit from different students. As I release some of the control of the lesson to student leaders, more and more students are modeling the correct behaviors and skills as a whole. Eventually all students will be able to work individually on the lesson and become a student leader. Technology is integrated as students use the Smart Board for each lesson.

Scaffolding in Your Classroom

View the videos below and try scaffolding in your own classroom!
Teaching Matters: Scaffolding


This video is a great resource to see the different skills and strategies that can be taught and reinforced through scaffolding.

(found on YouTube)

I Do, We Do, You Do: Scaffolding Reading Comprehension in Social Studies


This video is another great resource to view scaffolding in action. A sixth grade teacher shows how she scaffolds and why it is important for her students.

(found on YouTube)


Frederick, M., Courtney, S., and Caniglia, J. (2014). With a little help from my friends: scaffolding techniques in problem solving. Investigations in Mathematics Learning, 7, pp 21-32.

Pearson Education Inc. (2015). Envision math and reading curriculum. Retrieved from:

Slavin, R. E. (2014). Educational Psychology: Theory and Practice (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.