But what is (instructional) scaffolding?  Your child is interested in learning a new skill.  Or you want to teach your child a new skill.  It doesn’t matter what the skill is: learning how to ride a bike, how to use visual cues to read accurately or how to rhyme.  You provide support (aka scaffolding) because it speeds up the learning curve and promotes independence.  Scaffolding support comes in four forms: resources/materials, tasks, modeling and coaching/giving advice.

Let’s examine Scaffolding in the context of Teaching your Child to Ride a Bike
Learning to Ride a Bike

Strider Bike – Independent
Pedal Bike – Needs a lot of Scaffolding


  1. You provide a Strider (pedal-less) bike or a a bike with training wheels.
  2. When progressing from a Strider bike to a pedal bike, you hold onto the child’s seat, providing additional, physical support.


  1. Practice bike riding in a fun, exciting environment.  This may mean a bike ride to park or a play date with friends who are more proficient bike riders.
  2. You have your child practice walking on balance beam like structures to promote the development of balance (the perimeter of the park is often lined with balance beam-like wooden beams).


  1. You also hop on your bike (hopefully, not a Strider!) for the ride to the park.
  2. You show your child how pedals are maneuvered (push the left foot forward, push the right foot forward, repeat).
  3. You teach your child how to “bicycle” his legs in the air while lying on his back, thus, ingraining the cycling motion.

Coaching/Giving advice

  1. “Look where you want to go.  If you look at that rock, you will likely hit it.”
  2. “If you cannot use the brakes, remember you can always slow down like you did on the Strider, by dragging your feet.”

Scaffolding is an instructional technique in which the teacher diminishes support in a graceful, observant way so that the student can grow more independent and own his learning process.  

In the academic realm, scaffolding is second nature to top-notch teachers.  First, the teacher must be observant and be capable of identifying where the student stands in the developmental spectrum.  There are three stages for any task or concept: Independent, Instructional and Frustration.

Independent pretty much speaks for itself.  The student can do the task or understand the concept independently.

Instructional means that the student needs support to successfully complete the task or understand.  This is where scaffolding is necessary.

Frustration means that the student cannot successfully complete a task or understand a concept, even with scaffolding.

The goal of scaffolding is that tasks and concepts that were once instructional become independent. 

As a literacy tutor to your child, it is essential that you understand where he stands along the developmental spectrum of a given skill set.  You will have to find the resources and create the tasks to meet him at his instructional level.  (I can help you with that!)  Through modeling and coaching, you can show him how a more advanced learner would approach the task or concept.  (I can help you with that, too!)  Once the process or information becomes more familiar to him, you will be able to withdraw your support and allow him to blossom to independence.

Then, of course, you find the next instructional task and begin the process of scaffolding all over again.

When have you used scaffolding to promote your child’s learning?  What worked?  What didn’t?  Were there any a-ha moments for either you or him/her?  Please share!




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