Expert Q&A: Scaffolding Techniques for Reading to Support Learners

As a follow-up to her recent National Geographic Learning webinar, Lift co-author Tracey Gibbins answers a few questions about scaffolding from participants in the session.

What is the difference between scaffolding and differentiation?

Scaffolding for reading is the process of supporting students as they work towards becoming independent readers. I liken it to having training wheels on a bicycle; you use your training wheels until you’re able to take them off and ride without them. Scaffolding enables students to access a text or complete a task that would be beyond their current capability if you weren’t scaffolding the lesson. There are many techniques for scaffolding, but the end goal of each of them is that students will move towards reading independence. Differentiation is the process of tailoring your instruction to the individual students in your class. To differentiate, an instructor considers the current needs of the learners and uses varied techniques that are appropriate for each learner or small group of students. Not all students learn the same way or have the same strengths, so differentiation enables students to learn in a manner that is most effective for them. As with scaffolding, there are many, many techniques for differentiation. You may be able to differentiate your scaffolding techniques as well.

How can you scaffold non-fiction texts? Are the strategies the same as those for other genres?

Many scaffolding for reading techniques can be applied to almost any text. For example, stating learning objectives, pre-teaching vocabulary, previewing a text, and having focused discussions can be effective scaffolds no matter the genre. Depending on the specific non-fiction text you are working with, some scaffolds may be especially helpful. If the text has an abundance of technical or scientific vocabulary, you might spend more time pre-teaching those words or use images to support your vocabulary instruction. If the text deals with historical events, building background knowledge would be especially useful. For example, you might show a short video about the events or spend time talking out what students already know about the historical period.

What are some ways to monitor comprehension besides asking oral or giving written questions?

Monitoring your students’ comprehension as they read is an important way for you to plan how to proceed with your lesson. If students are struggling with a text, you will want to employ intervention strategies to boost their understanding. There are many ways to do this, both formal and informal, in-depth and very quick. If you have polling technology in your classroom, taking a short poll regarding a specific element of the text or a broader point can give you information quickly and is generally fun for students. Additionally, you might place students in small groups to discuss a portion of the text; you can monitor these conversations and take notes about areas students are grappling with.  You could have students draw the events in a narrative or number the events on a timeline to check that they understand the plot of a fiction text. These types of activities can break up a routine that relies heavily on answering formalized comprehension questions during reading.

For more on scaffolding techniques for reading to support learners, be sure to watch Tracey’s full webinar recording.

Author: Tracey Gibbins

Tracey Gibbins is a writer and consultant specializing in English education. Tracey holds a Master of Arts in English Education from New York University and a Master of Science in English Literature from the University of Edinburgh. Tracey has taught English in the United States and the United Kingdom and English Language Arts to middle and high school students in New York City. She has over a decade of experience as an author and developer of English materials for international publishers. Tracey lives with her family in New York.

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