Scaffolding is the process by which an instructor provides students with a temporary structure for learning that clearly defines expectations (McKenzie, 1999) so that students may sensibly advance and solidify their independent understandings of new material. Once students build knowledge and develop required skills, the elements of the structure or assistance are removed. This requires the instructor to continuously monitor and assess the students’ progress to ensure the students’ struggles are not overwhelming without intervening and providing too much help so that the students don’t struggle at all (Doyle, 2011).

Practical Applications

The key to effective scaffolding is to enable the important work to be completed independently by the students structure (McKenzie, 1999). Key characteristics of effective scaffolding include the following:

  1. ​Provide clear directions.
  2. Clarify purpose and answer the question: “What are we doing this?”
  3. Keep students on task by providing clear directions and monitoring progress.
  4. Develop a rubric to share with students to clearly communicate expectations of quality work.
  5. Point students to relevant resources.
  6. Continue to refine the scaffolding experience to maximize learning and efficiency by watching students engaged in the activities and making adjustments to improve future iterations.
  7. Work to “distill” the work effort so that students are focused, on tasks, and clear about objectives.
  8. Use the scaffolding experience to create momentum to invite insight and understanding around essential course concepts or questions. (Adapted from McKenzie, 1999).

Recommended Resources


  • Bransford, John D., Brown, Ann L., & Cocking, Rodney R., Ed., (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.
  • Doyle, T. (2008). Helping students learn in a learner centered environment: A guide to teaching in higher education. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
  • McKenzie, Jamie, (1999). Scaffolding for Success. Now On: The Educational Journal, 9(4). Retrieved November 1, 2002, from

Posted by: Eron Drake

Original Posting Date: 10?27/14