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Scaffolding and differentiation are effective instructional methods used in today’s classroom.

Learn what these methods are, their similarities and differences, and how they should be used.

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Addressing Student Learning

Imagine that you teach a kindergarten class. All of your students have different learning styles, different levels of developmental readiness, and different abilities. You are expected to create a learning environment in which each student will progress and meet the learning goals. How will you do this?Students learn by building upon prior knowledge and, as mentioned, each student has a unique learning style and abilities.

The same principles are true for any classroom. A teacher can address this by establishing clear learning goals and then providing the support and variety of activities necessary for students to accomplish the goal.Scaffolding and differentiation can help accomplish learning goals. These terms are often confused with one another, so let’s first define each teaching strategy and then discuss how they can work together effectively.

Scaffolding

Say that you’re introducing a lesson on rhyming to your kindergarten classroom. Would you simply read a passage to the students and ask them to tell you which words rhyme? Of course not.

You would first explain to the students what rhyming is and provide them with examples. Then, when you first read the passage to the students, you may emphasize the words with the same ending sounds.Put simply, scaffolding is providing students with supports.

It is an instructional strategy used to aid student success through a step-by-step process. The teacher builds supports based upon what the students already know as new abilities are introduced. As the student begins to master the new abilities, the supports are removed. Scaffolding can be used to support individual student needs as well as whole group instruction.In your kindergarten classroom, as students master the concept of rhyming, you will gradually stop reminding them what rhyming is and no longer provide modeling. You can then expect the students to work on rhyming activities without help and recognize rhyming words when you do not stress the ending sounds.

Differentiation

Let’s say that you have a student in your class who is a visual learner and isn’t mastering the idea of rhyming through verbal modeling. What can you do to see that this student’s needs are being met? Differentiating instruction can improve this child’s chances for success.Differentiation involves making changes to instruction to address individual student needs and learning styles. Students have their own unique abilities and background knowledge that affect their readiness to learn. It is the teacher’s responsibility to react responsively to each child’s needs.

A teacher can do this by changing any or all of the following:

  • The material a student is using
  • The activity (the task)
  • What the student is being asked to do

For your student who is having trouble with rhyming, you could change the material you’re using. Rather than have the student pick out the rhyming words from a book passage, you could use a set of words so the process is less overwhelming. You could alter the activity by saying a word and asking your student to tell you the word that rhymes with it, rather than having the student find both rhyming words. You could also change what you are asking the student to do, creating a more visual activity where the student sorts rhyming words from a set of picture cards.

Using Them Together

You can probably already see how scaffolding and differentiation complement each other. A teacher should first use scaffolding to create lessons that will form a foundation to accomplish new learning goals. With this support in place, differentiation becomes an important tool. As individual students need assistance with different tasks, a teacher will make changes to student activities, materials, or assignments as needed.

Both scaffolding and differentiation provide a means for students to take control of their learning. This makes them beneficial instructional tools that should be incorporated in all classrooms.Let’s use another classroom example to look at scaffolding and differentiation one last time.

Example

This time, let’s consider how a physical education teacher might adapt a lesson to provide scaffolding and differentiation. First, the teacher lets the children know that the learning goal is to run one mile by the end of the school year. During the first quarter, students will begin with a quarter-mile run. A half-mile will be run during the second quarter and three-quarters of a mile during the third quarter of school. This provides scaffolding support as students work up to one mile by the end of the school year.Some students in the classroom have difficulty running. One student has asthma and another has a developmental delay that affects their coordination.

The teacher differentiates the instruction by changing the requirement to allow speed walking. By the end of the year, all of the students have accomplished the one-mile goal.

Lesson Summary

Scaffolding provides students with supports that help them accomplish goals in a step-by-step process. These supports are then slowly removed as the skills are mastered. Scaffolding can be used either for individual students or as a part of whole group instruction.

Differentiation is making changes in instruction in response to individual student needs. A teacher can make changes to the material, the activity, or the student assignment.

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