Skip to Main Content

Scaffolding Instruction Toolkit: Definitions

Background information, tools, resources, and ideas for learning more about and implementing scaffolded instruction


Instructional Scaffolding
According to Andrea Baer, Instructional Services Librarian at the University of West Georgia, instructional scaffolding is an "intentional process through which learning supports [scaffolds] are developed and later removed in order to help students build on prior learning, progressively strengthen their understanding and abilities, and ultimately to be more self-directed learners."

Gradual Release Model Diagram



Gradual Release of Responsibility

Scaffolding includes mini-lessons, prompts, open-ended question stems, metacognitive strategies and more as students move toward self-directed learning.  Scaffolding involves the gradual release of responsibility, thus transferring it to the learner. 

Often, this is evident in modeling.  For example, scaffolding instruction somewhat mirrors the"I do it, we do it, you do it" method (Fisher and Frey, 2013).




Image by Douglas Fisher

Scaffolding and Proximal Development

Zone of Proximal DevelopmentZone of Proximal Development Diagram

According to Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, the zone of proximal development (ZPD)
is defined as...

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 (1978, p. 86 in McLeod, 2019).

The ZPD is synonymous with scaffolding, although the term was first introduced by Wood, Bruner, and Ross (1976). Scaffolding support declines as students progress and eventually takes control of their learning.




Image by McLeod



Wood, Bruner, and Ross (1976) define scaffolding as the simplification of processes while "highlighting their complexity." Scaffolds are used temporarily, "just the right amount of support at the right time," and are often used to "improve higher order thinking or content understanding." 

Examples of scaffolds include tools such as Advance Organizers, Guided Questions (Sardo & Sindelar, 2019)Mind Maps, and more (NIU, 2015).

Process and Methods

Scaffolding Process
Educational psychologist Brian R. Belland, defines six steps in the scaffolding process and recommends three scaffolding methods.

  1. Enlist student interest.
  2. Control frustration.
  3. Provide feedback.
  4. Indicate important problem elements.
  5. Model expert processes.
  6. Encourage questioning.

Scaffolding Methods

  1. One-on-one (Preferred)
  2. Peer (more capable students)
  3. Computer/Paper (handouts)