This article is adapted from chapter 1 of Christ in the Classroom: Lesson Planning for the Heart and Mind. To get more teaching strategies like these, get your copy of the book wherever books are sold.
What is a Scaffolding Strategy?
Imagine, for a moment, the construction of a building. As each new level is added to the building, a scaffold is elevated next to it to help construct and support it.
Once the building is completed and sturdy, the scaffolding can be removed.
Likewise, using a scaffolding approach to teachingmeans providing support while students learn new ideas. When this support is no longer needed, it is removed as students show mastery on their own.
Every idea that you introduce to students for the first time needs to be connected to ideas they already understand. Think of these new ideas as pieces of a building not yet attached to the foundation that is already there.
As the teacher, you can use a scaffold to help connect the new to the old.
Once that new idea is attached, you can remove the scaffold because that information is linked within your students’ long-term memory—or, if it is a skill you are teaching, the skill has become automatic.
The Seven Scaffolding Strategies
Here are seven of my favorite ways to use scaffolding to teach new ideas:
1) Advance Organizers
Post an advance organizer on the board in the front of the room or on a sheet of paper on the students’ desks.
Think of an advance organizer like a map or a table of contents for your lesson.
Some teachers write their lesson objectives or curriculum standards on the board as advance organizers. Others list the main topics for the lesson of the day. Still others will use visuals like mind maps for students to reference as a lesson progresses.
This simple practice enables students to make connections between every new piece of information you introduce and the advance organizer that you have provided for them. They can see where each new piece of information fits on the map. This way the information you present is always associated at least with the advance organizer, if nothing else, in their brains.
2) Objects and Visual Aids
Everyday objects as well as sacramentals can help your students make connections to new ideas. Display the chosen object prominently and refer to it frequently during your lesson to help students make connections between the object and the new ideas.
3) Songs and Chants
Songs and short chants are popular with younger students. Setting sentences and words to a familiar tune or easy-to-remember chant helps with memory recall. Again, once the new ideas are mastered, the songs are no longer needed (like scaffolding next to a building). They are very helpful, however, early in the learning process.
4) Hand Motions and Other Gestures
Another effective way to teach new ideas is to use hand motions and other gestures to help students remember the meaning of words. The students will rely on these gestures at first, and you may even see them mimicking them during tests, but eventually as new ideas are mastered, the gestures are no longer needed.
5) Graphic Organizers
Many people are visual learners rather than verbal learners. They understand ideas better when they are presented in images, charts, graphs, or other visually distinctive ways rather than strictly through words in line one after another.
A graphic organizer is a handout that represents the connections between ideas in images rather than simply as words. Students remember how each idea is associated with other ideas depending on where it appears on the graphic organizer.
Using a graphic organizer is often the best way for students to absorb information as they listen to lectures or read a textbook. It allows them to more easily process what they are hearing or reading and make connections between ideas as they go.
Graphic organizers can also be great tools for students to practice what they have learned, helping make new connections to ideas that have not been introduced in class but that they know from elsewhere.
Demonstrations can be an effective way to scaffold a particular skill.
You as teacher may perform the step-by-step process that you will subsequently ask your students to perform using a set of instructions.
The demonstration models for the students the skill you want them to master. Sometimes you must do this demonstration multiple times in order for your students to grasp the process.
Think of this in the same way as watching YouTube videos to fix something around your house. You often have to view those videos multiple times before you can repeat the process you have observed in the demonstration. The more you watch, the more likely you are to execute the skill correctly.
7) Ideal Examples
Similar to a demonstration, an ideal example is simply a finished project or assignment that displays what you want students to create. Ideal examples set the standard.
Showing non-examples of lower-quality or unacceptable work can also set a standard of expectations for students before they begin. At some point during your lesson, you will ask the students to complete a project to show what they have learned. Some students will do the least amount of work possible for this assignment. Therefore, setting a high standard ahead of time raises the quality of everyone’s work.
After the Scaffolding
As religious educators, we have a responsibility to help our students learn and understand Church doctrines and theological ideas. These seven scaffolding strategies are the best ways to ensure students grasp an understanding of these ideas.
However, we can’t stop here. After we get students to learn new ideas through scaffolding, we need to push them to make personal connections as well. We need to lead them through meditation and prayer in order to encounter Christ in class.
Read more about this approach including examples for each of the Seven Scaffolding Strategies in Christ in the Classroom.