Education Vocabulary: The Basics of Scaffolding

Education Vocabulary: The Basics of Scaffolding

In our Education Vocabulary series, we take a word or a phrase commonly used in education, break it down and describe how it's used at The Joy School.

In this post, we discuss scaffolding with Andrea Dorr, our Transition Coordinator and former math teacher, to help you better understand this term and help you visualize how it's used in our classrooms. We also explain the integral role scaffolding plays as Andrea evaluates students' readiness to transition into other schools.


Definition: In education, scaffolding refers to a variety of instructional techniques used to move students progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in the learning process. (1)


Visualizing Scaffolding

In many ways, scaffolding in education is a lot like scaffolding on a building. At the beginning of the building process there are a lot of pieces of scaffolding in place, but over time, those pieces are removed until the building can stand on its own. That's exactly what happens in education, too. At the beginning of the learning process, teachers provide a lot of assistance, but over time, they gradually remove the assistance, piece by piece, until the student has gained independence in that subject area.

Scaffolding is a fundamental part of the learning process in all schools and classrooms, but at The Joy School, we need to provide a more specialized level of scaffolding to help our students reach their full potential. We might have to start at a basic level, really breaking down concepts and providing a high level of support for students. We may also need to introduce assistive technologies and accommodations to help our students with learning differences access higher level concepts and course material.

To help further explain the concept of scaffolding, Andrea used an example of what it could look like in a math class that is learning division. "A teacher using scaffolding wouldn't start with the concept of division and expect students to do it," Andrea said. "It could start with a story and physical objects, called manipulatives, anything to make the story more interesting for students. You might physically show three students and nine cupcakes and have them physically move cupcakes around to divide out an equal number of cupcakes per student. Then you start introducing the division sign, and eventually, students are able to build up to using the division sign and numbers to complete equations."


Rebuilding Confidence Through Scaffolding

Scaffolding at TJS also plays a huge role in rebuilding our students' confidence that gaps in knowledge break down. Our goal through scaffolding is to help students re-frame the way they think about themselves by helping them see that they can be successful with the right level of support, tools and scaffolding in place. Once students understand this, their confidence is restored, and they better understand themselves as learners.

Once students understand how they learn the best, they are better equipped to advocate for themselves in the future. In her role as Transition Coordinator, Andrea observes students in classrooms who either have expressed interest in transitioning or who are transitioning into high school, and specifically looks for that skill in students. "That is our goal," Andrea said. "If they understand their skill-sets, accommodations and learning style, then that's when they're in the position to transition."



Scaffolding in Other Schools

Another reason Andrea needs to understand students' unique scaffolding needs is because it helps her guide parents toward the right fit school for their transitioning child. "Different schools provide different levels of scaffolding," Andrea said. "That is something I watch for when I visit other schools." Pairing a student with the right school ensures that the transition from The Joy School is as smooth as possible, and the student is set up for the greatest level of success.

Once students have transitioned on, Andrea is still there to meet with the student, family and even members of the student's new school, in case issues arise. Often, she serves as a link, almost like a translator, between the family and school to help both come to common ground and demystify issues that can come from either side of the table. "The Joy School family is forever," Andrea said. "I will always be there to support our families."

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Jan Flowers

Learn more about our Transition Coordinator

Andrea Dorr is a native Houstonian and comes from a family of teachers and public servants. She received her Bachelor of Social Work from Southwest Texas State University, now known as Texas State. After serving in the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services as a child abuse investigator, she sought teaching certificates in special education, math and science. Andrea spent five years at her alma mater, Taylor High School, teaching in the special education department and coaching girls soccer. She helped lead her team to the district's first 5A state championship in 2006. After moving to Houston, she taught middle school for five years, where she implemented a program for struggling students and served as a testing coordinator. Andrea found The Joy School in 2014 through a childhood friend who is now her colleague. She is thrilled to work with The Joy School students and faculty every day.

Degrees Held:

Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences from Texas State University