How To Scaffold In Math

ALI Staff | Published  April 14, 2021

Scaffolding continues to be one of the most influential strategies in education because it can be applied to a variety of topics and demographics, and both teachers and students benefit when scaffolding techniques are applied.

Learn more about the impact of scaffolding in math class.


Students holding up whiteboards in math class


What is Scaffolding?

Scaffolding, a term borrowed from the construction industry, is now a common best practice in the world of education.

Scaffolds are temporary structures of support that are used to repair and construct buildings. These scaffolds are removed when the structure no longer requires extra support.

Scaffolding in education is a pedagogical term for a similar teaching strategy.

Eventually, students will no longer require the scaffolded instruction of their teachers to understand concepts and progress to higher levels of learning.

Not only is this a practical method for learning and teaching content, but it has also proven to be an effective technique for the social and emotional learning of students as well.


What Does Scaffolding Look Like in Math Class?

Scaffolding may seem more straightforward in subjects like reading and writing, but it is especially important in subjects that require abstract thinking and analysis, such as math.

Scaffolding in math means building up basic math skills until students have enough resources and skills to tackle more complex concepts. 

When educators combine strategies with scaffolding in math, students are able to show progress in developing mastery. It all starts with a firm foundation!


Differentiation vs. Scaffolding

To define scaffolding, teachers focus on their supportive roles when teaching content standards to students.

These supports must be gradually removed for the strategy to be successful.

Math differentiation focuses more on supporting a variety of learning styles like auditory, visual, and kinesthetic.

Both strategies are creative and inclusive to support all students and provide a strong foundation for them to build on and progress to higher levels of learning.


How Does Scaffolding Improve Math Instruction?

Scaffolding is based on clinical research on cognitive development and social interaction.

The importance of collaboration, modeling, and guidance remains a fundamental and foundational strategy of scaffolding that can be applied to mathematics.

Scaffolding allows students to comprehend concepts and use that knowledge to build upon what they already know through genuine human collaboration.

This practical approach allows students to naturally expand their knowledge because they can build on a firm foundation due to scaffolding strategies.


Examples of Scaffolding in Math Class


1. Using Visual Aids

Visual aids are a constant part of mathematics used to represent data.

At a certain point, it is vital for students to represent and analyze numbers.

When using visual aids like charts, graphs, and diagrams, students can better understand complex mathematical concepts. These visual aids can connect real-world examples with data and learning standards.

One simple activity is to use a pie chart to represent pieces of a whole when teaching fractions. A pie chart can be tied to many real-world scenarios that students relate to, like the amount of water used in a household for things like laundry, showering, or even using the toilet!

This technique allows students to progress their understanding of concepts like fractions in a practical way. This could be paper-based, digital, or even hands-on materials and physical models.


2. Using Manipulatives

Manipulatives are extremely useful in math class because it is a physical representation.

It can be challenging for some students to visualize numbers and patterns, so using materials like blocks or rulers allows students to master content standards with a practical, hands-on approach.

One example of this can be used when teaching addition and subtraction.

Concrete manipulatives, like blocks, can be added or taken away right in front of a student to show the arithmetic operations. This strategy is especially advantageous for kinesthetic learners who thrive with sensory learning!

There are many other ways to use and modify concrete manipulatives to help students understand mathematical concepts.

Eventually, students should be able to master content standards without relying on the use of manipulatives to complete math problems.


3. Model Problem-Solving

Problem-solving is a mandatory component, if not the most important component, of mathematics.

When teachers model using step-by-step methods, students can break down math problems completely and confidently to arrive at the correct answer.

Many students need help with word problems. One way to apply scaffolding techniques to this type of problem is to break it down on the board in front of students.

Students could have a copy of the problem on paper or laptops while observing the instructor complete the problem.

Teachers model how to arrive at the correct answer by highlighting, underlining, circling key terms, showing the process of elimination, and more.

This activity could be applied as a warm-up, exit ticket, or simple comprehension check that can be implemented on a daily basis.

Over time, students will be able to complete these types of problems without the need for modeling by the teacher.

This is the ultimate success of scaffolding and allows students to grasp concepts naturally, practically, and efficiently.


Scaffolding for Success

Scaffolding progresses with the times but always connects academics, language, psychology, and human interaction to facilitate student learning gains.

Teachers can help students develop the necessary skills to become independent learners by providing appropriate support and guidance.

As learners become more proficient, scaffolding is gradually withdrawn, allowing students to confidently navigate the learning process independently.


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