For Teachers

Teacher Techniques: Scaffolding Elementary Education

By The Room 241 Team February 12, 2013

Good teaching practice requires teachers to make increasingly complex cognitive demands of their students. Even at the elementary level, the best instruction is rigorous and prompts students to think deeply about both content and process.

To set students up for success, it’s vital that elementary teachers break learning up into smaller, more manageable chunks. This process is called scaffolding. Not to be confused with differentiation, scaffolding elementary education means looking at how to present material to the entire class, not just those students who may struggle.

Read on for tips on how to begin scaffolding elementary education.

Vary the medium: Scaffold to reach visual and verbal learners

Changing up the teaching medium can be a great way to scaffold instruction and get students more comfortable with learning in different sensory modes. Teachers can try incorporating visual aids into their instruction and allowing students to use pictures, charts, and graphic organizers to express their understanding of new concepts. Graphic organizers can be especially useful for helping elementary students learn abstract concepts such as cause and effect, sequence of events, and compare and contrast.

While some students will respond well to visual learning strategies, others may benefit more from opportunities to process new information verbally. Successful teachers build on formal and informal verbal sharing exercises to allow students processing time:

  • Try strategies like turn-and-talk, which requires students to turn to their seat partner and discuss a prompt for a set period of time.
  • Think-pair-share is another great verbal strategy, and teachers can easily build in accountability by asking students to report back on what their partner said during the exercise.

These strategies have the added benefit of teaching students how to listen to peers for new ideas and engage in respectful academic discussion.

Pre-teaching strategies to tap prior knowledge

Teachers beginning a new unit with their class may want to dive in to the content in order to maximize learning time, but too many new vocabulary words and concepts can overwhelm students. So, how do good teachers avoid confusion and disengagement?

  • Teachers can take the time to pre-teach key concepts and give students an opportunity to contextualize their new learning.
  • Teachers can lead a class discussion to generate excitement for the new content and survey students’ existing knowledge.
  • Students can share their opinions, questions, and experiences, which will create a strong foundation for incorporating new knowledge and understanding.

Questions, reflections, and think-alouds

One of the most effective ways to begin scaffolding elementary education is also the easiest. Questioning students about new content gives teachers clear data on the effectiveness of their lessons. Giving ample think time allows students to better formulate their responses, so teachers should get comfortable with pausing after each question. When students start providing answers, teachers can use this opportunity to model the sort of thinking process the student must have gone through to arrive at their answer. This process makes clear the level of thinking required to make new connections and understandings, and gives students a clearer path to success.

While it may be tempting to move quickly though challenging material, taking the time to slow down and scaffold lessons can lead to more enduring understandings and greater academic success.

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