37 Scaffolding and Fading

Scaffolding refers to any number of instructional techniques used to support students as they move incrementally toward deeper understanding and greater independence in the learning process. Scaffolding is an essential element of teaching that is used to bridge gaps between what students have learned in the past and what they are expected to know and do at the end of a specific time period (e.g., a module or course). Scaffolding can help reduce the negative emotions that students experience when they get frustrated, intimidated, or overwhelmed in the face of new or difficult concepts or material.

Like physical scaffolding used in construction, scaffolds are removed incrementally when they are no longer needed. The process by which the instructor shifts more responsibility for learning to the student is called fading. Fading can occur within a conversation, an activity, a module, or across a course as a whole.

Approaches for scaffolding and fading

  • Give students a simplified version of a lesson, assignment, or reading, and gradually increase the complexity, difficulty, or sophistication of the task over time. Having students complete the task without support constitutes fading.
  • Describe a concept, problem, or process in several ways or situated in different contexts to facilitate understanding. Asking the students to explain the concept or apply it in different contexts would be a form of fading.
  • Provide examples of an assignment that has been completed in the past.
  • Model the process that students are expected to perform. More advanced students might also be asked to model the process for their classmates (as a form of differentiation).
  • Describe the purpose of a learning activity, the directions students need to follow, and the learning goals they are expected to achieve.
  • Be explicit about how the new lesson builds on the knowledge and skills students were taught in a previous lesson.

Additional resources


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