In construction, a scaffold is a temporary structure used by workers to access heights and areas that are hard to get to. This is exactly what educators are doing when they scaffold for students. A student is having a hard time reaching a new height—understanding a concept, answering a question, or completing an activity—and the teacher provides just enough support to allow the student to succeed. 

As part of Quality of Feedback within the CLASS tool, we want to see that the teacher is providing feedback that expands learning and understanding. Scaffolding is an excellent strategy for supporting both individuals and an entire class, and can come in many forms. 

Let’s look at one scenario seen often in a preschool classroom and five ways a teacher could scaffold the student’s experience. 

A child is playing with blocks and is frustrated that the tower keeps falling down.

  1. Ask prompting questions: "What do you think would happen if we didn't build the tower quite so tall?"
  2. Give a range of possible answers to think about: If a child is having trouble coming up with an answer, the teacher can provide multiple answers to choose from in order to help the child come up with a correct response independently. “Do you think we need bigger blocks at the bottom or should we make two smaller towers?” 
  3. Make suggestions: Offer hints or partial solutions that might solve the problem. “Your block tower keeps falling down. Do you want to try putting all the bigger blocks at the bottom?”
  4. Use a demonstration: The teacher can simply sit and make his/her own version of a block tower to demonstrate how the blocks work best. 
  5. Provide physical support: Scaffolding can also take the form of physical assistance. The teacher can hold  the blocks at the bottom to help the child stabilize the tower. 

In each of these scenarios, the teacher is allowing the student to perform at a higher level than they would be able to on their own. These same strategies work whether the student is stuck while counting, sorting, creating a plan, or opening a snack. 

5 Strategies for Scaffolding in an Early Childhood Classroom