Remove the Scaffolding!

Scaffold by definition is a temporary structure put in place to repair a “building or other construction.” Applying this definition to education we know that scaffolding is when we put instructional strategies in place to temporarily repair or support learning.

We, as educators, put scaffolds automatically in place to ensure our students are successful. It is important to support our learners while they are shaky and beginning to learn, practice and apply new tasks or strategies.   All students can benefit from this support. We provide to them in various ways. We use guided instruction where a teacher levels instruction to a child’s level and gradually increases the level of complexity over time. This simplified lesson helps students see and understand the concept in a smaller group and allows the teacher to check and monitor progress. Teachers employ strategies such as “I do, we do, you do” to help transfer responsibility gradually to the student. Other popular ways to offer scaffolding to students are:

  • Frontloading vocabulary
  • Visuals and graphics
  • Modeling and think aloud
  • Sentence starters or word boxes
  • Partner work or collaborative teams
  • Graphic Organizers together as a class to organize ideas

But what happens when we do not remove this “temporary” support?


Teaching is an art and knowing when to apply and remove instructional support is crucial.  We must constantly think:  

  • Who is the reader or student?
  • What is their ability?
  • What can they do?  
  • Are we applying tasks that are stretching this student?  
  • Am I providing activities and materials to help them grow and think a bit more than yesterday?  
  • Is the text or material we are providing continuing to challenge?
  • Is the proper scaffold in place?

Constantly evaluating “Task–Text—Student” is the key to ensuring a balanced and rigorous classroom. There must be a balance between these variables to ensure continued learning. If you are providing rigorous material and tasks that stretch thinking but give too much support–you are keeping the student from learning. Rigor and learning is obtained by instilling conceptual understanding through the domains of literacy, having students matched to text and task appropriately to ensure they are stretching. Each element must work together in accordance with the instructional strategies and scaffolding the teacher is providing.

How can we lessen “learning scaffolding” AND continue with rigor?


Give the Graphic Organizer for students to do while the lesson is in progress and independent work.

Do not do graphic organizers with students without having them generate their own ideas and complete them first. Graphic organizers should be strategically used within a lesson to chunk the lesson and have students show understanding along the way.  For example, when reading a story, stop periodically and have students fill in a story map. Do not tell them what or how to do it but let them share their ideas with a partner and make changes. Only after this time of independent work and partner discussion should a teacher model or intervene. By providing the time for students to work–you are allowing them to generate ideas and show their own learning. Teachers can then intervene and deepen understanding through modeling and questioning.


Plan time for students to learn in whole group move to partners and then to  independent work while learning a new concept. Let them do the work!

After teaching a concept, it is important for students to talk through their ideas and concepts with a partner to begin to make sense of the information. Student talk is crucial to help students work through the domains of literacy (listening, speaking, reading and writing) to have conceptual understanding.  More importantly, students must take time to work independently on the skill AND MAKE MISTAKES. It is not until you bring students back together to clarify and question students do they begin to make connections and to make sense of errors.  The best way to take scaffolding from a student is to make them think through and do the work themselves. Give time for students to think on their own and write their own ideas into their journal or notebook. After they have generated ideas, then let them share and work together. All students should bring ideas to the table when doing group work or it is not an equal learning experience. Instead of think-pair-share, try write-pair-share-write!  By changing this strategy students are writing or drawing their ideas, getting support from a partner when discussing (deepening understanding).  The sharing helps to clarify and deepen understanding further with the teacher modeling.  The final write allows the student to conceptualize their ideas into written drawings or thoughts. (labels on drawings is a great next step for younger students)

Removing instructional scaffolding is not easy because we want our students to be successful. However, we must remember that until they make mistakes–learning truly has no purpose or meaning. Let students have time to make errors and then help students fix them–that is truly TEACHING AND LEARNING WITH RIGOR.

2 Thoughts.

  1. I love this! Students have so much “direction” throughout the day, that when given time for even unstructured play, they are unsure what to do! Another reason I love the idea of makerspace and genius hour –this goes hand in hand.

    • Yes! We give support without even thinking about it AND our students can do so much without our support. Thanks for sharing!! Makerspace and Genius Hour are great ways for students to pursue innovation.

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