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Scaffolding: Three Strategies for Rigorous Instruction

August 29, 2019

Scaffolding: Three Strategies for Rigorous Instruction


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Using Scaffolding to Raise Rigor in the Classroom

If we consider that rigor is “creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008),” then we realize that rigor is more than simply making work harder. Rather, we raise our expectations for depth and complexity. However, when you raise the expectations in your classroom, you must also provide extra scaffolding for students. Simply expecting them to do more without additional support will set your students up for failure. Let’s look at three scaffolding strategies that can help your students be successful with rigorous work.

Watch Barbara's webinar, Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word, on-demand on Share My Lesson.

Scaffolding: Helping Students Remember Through Visuals

Many teachers use visuals to help their students remember steps in an activity. Desirae Remensnyder, for example, provides key information for her science students. “I have a reminder board in the back of my room that highlights the important items for each lab. I list the safety equipment needed, proper disposal methods, etc. We review the highlights before the lab, and the reminder board is right in front of them when they perform the lab.”

Another way to use visual reinforcement is through the use of a color-coded timeline. This is particularly helpful when you are asking students to do a longer-term activity. My students struggled with activities that took longer than a day or two. They didn’t seem to remember what we had done or how it fit into a bigger picture. One day, I put up a chart with color-coded steps and used a large arrow to pinpoint where we were in the process. It made a difference immediately, and the students were more successful.

Scaffolding in education

Scaffolding refers to a variety of instructional techniques used to move students progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in the learning process. - EdGlossary

Scaffolding: Modeling Expected Instructional Behaviors

You likely have some standard expectations for your students related to instruction. However, your students may not understand what to do, even if you tell them. You can always model your thinking for students. In other words, you explain to your students what you are thinking.

You can follow the same process with any instruction. The purpose is to show your students how you are processing information.

Teacher Jessica Chastain uses technology to clarify her expectations for students’ participation in their first student-led portfolio assessment conferences. As she explains:

"I taped a sample interview to give the students a good idea of what to expect. When the class viewed the sample interview, I would stop the video after each question, have the students repeat each question to me, and then they would write it down. The second time through, we watched the whole interview with no interruptions. Then we discussed it. When I interviewed the students throughout the next week, they were prepared to share their work with me, give me their opinions of their strengths and weaknesses, and we were able to set a goal for the next part of the year."

Because Chastain knew this would be challenging for her students, she showed them a virtual example of the entire process, as well as providing instruction to ensure their success.

Many of your students need to understand what is in your head. As one teacher told me, “Most students turn in their best idea of what we are looking for. Sometimes they really don’t know what we are thinking, and it’s our job to make sure they do know.” That defines this strategy; support, engage and motivate your students to higher levels of learning by making sure they actually understand what they are expected to do.

Scaffolding: Presenting Multiple Opportunities to Learn

Some students will benefit from multiple exposures to critical skills or experiences. A struggling reader may need the opportunity to experience the text prior to class. In those selected cases, consider allowing students to listen to an audio recording of the material prior to reading it with the entire class. The extra time they spend listening to the text provides a stronger foundation for their comprehension. Another option is to have certain students read an easier version of a text prior to reading the more rigorous version in order to build vocabulary and prior knowledge.

A Final Note on Rigor and Scaffolding

Rigor is more than simply expecting students to complete challenging work. A thorough understanding of rigor incorporates the notion of providing the appropriate support and scaffolding to ensure that students can rise to rigorous levels.

Blackburn, B. (2008). Rigor Is Not a Four-Letter Word (firstt edition). New York: Routledge.

Barbara Blackburn
As a teacher, a leader and a university professor responsible for graduate training for educators, Barbara Blackburn has used her knowledge and experiences to write over 30 best-selling books. She utilizes the engagement she advocates there to capture and instill in nationwide audiences the desire... See More

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