What is "scaffolding" and how does it help ELLs?

Scaffolding is a method in which the teacher supports a student to work just beyond the level he could achieve on his own. Psychologist Lev Vygotsky called this area the "zone of proximal development." As the student becomes more competent, the support is gradually removed until the student is able to perform the task without assistance.

The benefits of using scaffolding are numerous. Scaffolds help students build on prior knowledge and internalize new information. The goal of the educator when using the scaffolding teaching strategy is for the student to become an independent and self-regulating learner and problem solver.

In addition to facilitating learning, the scaffolds:

  • Motivate the child's interest related to the task.
  • Simplify the task to make it more manageable and achievable for a child.
  • Help the child focus on achieving the goal.
  • Clearly indicate differences between the child's work and the standard or desired solution.
  • Reduce frustration and risk.
  • Model and clearly define the expectations of the activity to be performed.

For a discussion of scaffolding research and strategies, see the Scaffolding as a Teaching Strategy document from Condor's Scaffolding Website.

For a variety of instructional activities using scaffolding strategies, visit EDTech Projects.