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Scaffolding in Elementary Math is a Balancing Act that Gets Results.

Posted by Colleen Cadieux on Nov 24, 2011 5:30:00 AM

Marygrove MAT urges teachers to scaffold students in math for optimal differentiationOne of the biggest challenges elementary school teachers face is how to reach the wide range of ability levels in the classroom, while ensuring all students are challenged and mastering required content. The task of differentiating to meet the needs of multiple intelligences can be overwhelming and often seems like an uphill battle. However, scaffolding in math instructioncan help bridge the gap between learning a skill and performing it independently.

Scaffolding in Math: A definition.

Strategic scaffolding of math instruction is targeted support for students as they transition from the initial acquisition of a math concept or skill to independent mastery.  Often referred to as "guided practice," scaffolding of math instruction requires the systematic release of teacher modeling and intervention as students acquire the concept or skill.  Since scaffolded instruction requires immediate and specific feedback, teacher observations are crucial.  The teacher must know what a student is able to perform, the next step in the gradual release, and how to intervene if a student requires assistance.

Specific Criteria for Scaffolding in Math Instruction:

  • The teacher will describe the concept or model the concept a variety of times, (likely three or more) before any scaffolding begins.
  • After modeling is complete, the students begin to work on the assigned concept or skill.  The teacher is continually present to guide students, answer questions, and provide immediate feedback.
  • Observation and informal assessment may show the teacher that a student needs additional modeling or instruction.  This can be provided on an individual basis or to a small group.
  • As students show increasing competency, intervention fades. The teacher also strategically asks students to complete more challenging problems related to the concepts to demonstrate mastery.  
  • Once a teacher is confident that a child is at mastery, the gradual release of responsibility is complete and a student can be released to work independently.  The teacher will provide a variety of additional practice opportunities related to the original concept.
  • Since every student will progress differently through the scaffolded instruction, the teacher needs to be aware of student needs.  Some will need repeat instruction and practice while others may need an additional challenge once mastery is reached.

Here’s an Example of Scaffolding in Math Instruction:
A second grade teacher is preparing to teach a scaffolded math lesson on regrouping in addition. His objective is to teach students the concept of regrouping across place value; students have all mastered multiple digit addition without regrouping.

Lay the foundation.
The teacher first lays the foundation for the new algorithm by modeling several addition with regrouping problems; 34+18, 22+59, 18+45. During this modeling, the teacher again explains and models skill and concept along with the crucial parts of the algorithm.

Pull back gradually.
During the first part of the gradual release, the teacher asks students to complete the problem, 16+17 while he observes and provides immediate feedback. He then will show the class the proper way to complete the problem using the standard algorithm, providing additional instruction.

Support and re-engage.
This process continues with students working on a series of problems while the teacher provides direct feedback, repeat instruction as necessary, and intervention into student work.  As students demonstrate mastery, the teacher will direct them to additional problems to complete that provide a continual challenge. If a student struggles to understand the concept the teacher continues to provide support until a mastery level is reached.

Don’t push yourself, since many times, scaffolding in math instruction occurs over a variety of days, classes, or lessons.  It is impossible to put a time frame, or specific guidelines, on how long scaffolded lessons should take because each child, and each class, is markedly different.  If you are new to this strategy, just ease into it slowly. You have to establish a rhythm and pacing that is right for you.

We’d love to hear about your experiences in the classroom with scaffolded instruction. Share them with us in the comments section below.


Tags: scaffolding math students, multiple intelligences, required content, differentiating math instruction

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