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What kind of scaffolding works?

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

Most teachers already use a range of scaffolding strategies to help their students, but what actually works for literacy?

Teachers know about scaffolding. Scaffolding means supporting students, then gradually reducing support as student become more proficient (Gibbons, 2009).

When I work with schools, every teacher can tell me about a range of great strategies they use in the classroom to support student learning. And yet there is still more we can do and learn about to improve the kinds of scaffolding we use with students.

For literacy, there is strong research about scaffolding that really helps to build student skills in literacy. We need this kind of scaffolding in secondary schools:

Scaffolding that is relevant to the subject area

We need to use scaffolding strategies that make sense for the subject area and discipline being taught. For example, in Science, there are particular ways of reading and writing that need to be supported. These are totally different from Technology or Drama, so we need to scaffold to build our students' expertise in our discipline.

Scaffolding that builds cumulative knowledge

We want to use strategies that start simply but that build up to more sophisticated ways of communicating for senior years. The scaffolding needs to be thought of as a spiral, starting simply but revisiting content in more sophisticated ways, to build cumulative subject area knowledge.

Scaffolding that is proven to work

An evidence-based approach to teaching is essential, so that we don't waste time on things that aren't effective. That's why we need an approach to scaffolding that has a strong research base behind it.

Here's a brief summary of scaffolding for writing.

The real power of scaffolding in literacy

The truth is that the more that teachers know about language, the better and more effective their scaffolding can be in the classroom.

The more teachers know about language, the better.

The real value in literacy comes when teachers understand purposes for writing (genres) in their subject area, and the language features of every text they want students to write (or read or speak about). This might require teachers to learn new things and to engage in professional learning about language, even if they are already experienced teachers.

For now, why not start with the questions here:

Faculty discussion

  • What kinds of scaffolding do you do now that are most effective in improving literacy with your students?

  • In what tasks do students need more scaffolding support?

  • What kind of scaffolding do you give to support students in speaking, reading and writing in your subject?


Gibbons, P. (2009). English learners, academic literacy and thinking. Learning in the challenge zone. Portsmouth NH: Heinemann.

To reference this post, please cite:

Weekes, T. (2021, August 22). What kind of scaffolding works? [Blog post]. Retrieved from


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