Mediated Scaffolding

In cognitive scaffolding, the goal is for students to "get it," or understand the first step in the learning process. The role of the scaffolding, however, is to eliminate the problems that could block students from getting it: not understanding or remembering the sound meaning correspondence in learning to read, for example, or developing a dislike for the activity and giving up.

Scaffolding is temporary. Students acquiring knowledge should learn to become as self-regulated and independent as possible. To accomplish this, teachers should gradually remove the scaffolding. On new or difficult tasks, scaffolding may be substantial at first and then be systematically removed as learners acquire knowledge and skills. For example, scaffolding can be accomplished through multiple formats, including the careful selection of examples that progress from less difficult to more difficult, the purposeful separation of highly similar and potentially confusing facts and concepts (e.g., mitosis and meiosis; /p/ and /b/ in early letter-sound correspondence learning), the strategic sequencing of tasks that require learners to recognize and then produce a response, or the additional information that selected examples provide, such as highlighting the digits used in a division problem.

Scaffolding is not a static, predetermined instructional condition. The degree of scaffolding changes with the abilities of the learner, the goals of instruction, and the complexities of the task. Educators must determine the level and degree of scaffolding necessary. Nonetheless, the more built-in support structures contained in curricular materials, the easier it is for teachers to provide the scaffolding that learners require.

Do the amount, sequence, and selection of information enhance the probability that information will be learned?

Evaluative Questions

  1. Does the sequence of instruction move from teacher-directed to student-directed activities?
  2. Does the sequence of instruction provide multiple examples of the target strategy prior to asking the learner to perform the skill?
  3. Does the sequence begin with easy tasks and progress to more difficult ones?
  4. Does the sequence of instruction separate potentially confusing information? Does the lesson introduce concepts or ideas that the learner may confuse?
  5. Does the sequence introduce a manageable amount of information for the range of learners?
  6. Count the number of modeled examples prior to learner practice.
  7. Count the number of guided examples prior to independent work.
  8. Do the requirements in instruction parallel requirements in independent practice? Examine the teaching component of the lesson and compare it with the expectations of practice/independent work. Based on your analysis, identify the modifications necessary to accommodate the full range of learners:
    • Add explicit models designed by the teacher prior to student application.
    • Add more examples of the skill/strategy in the guided practice phase.
    • Reduce the amount of information in the lesson.
    • Separate potentially confusing information/skills.
    • Sequence tasks to progress from easy to more difficult.
    • Change independent activities to parallel instructional activities.

*Excerpted from Toward Successful Inclusion of Students with Disabilities: The Architecture of Instruction by Edward J. Kameenui, and Deborah Simmons(1999).

Return to Design Principles.

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