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6 Scaffolding Strategies to Enhance your Student’s Math Skills

Scaffolding involves the use of temporary supports to assist students in learning and making academic progress.

Instructional scaffolding refers to a systematic process used by teachers to provide students with additional supports to enhance their learning and mastery of concepts. This approach involves building on students’ existing knowledge and experiences as they acquire new skills. To gain a better understanding of scaffolding, consider the analogy of a child learning to cycle. First, a parent attaches the training wheels to a bicycle. To start with the child is wobbly on the bicycle even with the training wheels. Slowly, the child begins to peddle faster and gains confidence. Next, he might move balancing on the 2 main wheels of the bicycle, occasionally taking support from the training wheels. Finally, the child is ready to peddle without any support from the training wheels. Soon enough, the child is balancing—and cycling—on his own. Like the training wheels in this example, teachers teaching new tasks initially should have complete control and support their students fully. Gradually, once the students are ready, support is withdrawn until the students are able to work on the academic work on their own. Hence, like the training wheels attached to a bicycle, scaffolds are temporary and adjustable supports that are gradually removed as students become proficient in cycling only on the 2 wheels of the bicycle.

Instructional Scaffolding is similar to the Training wheels attached to a Bicycle. Scaffolding involves the use of temporary supports to assist students in learning and making academic progress. Scaffolding, is a critical strategy in teaching new tasks with multiple segments. For many tutors the scaffolding technique comes naturally when teaching a new task or strategy, whereas others need to make an effort to incorporate scaffolding while teaching. It requires the tutor to be actively involved in lessons; providing cognitive scaffolding which will facilitate student learning and the student will then be able to achieve the learning goal. Examples of scaffolding include:

  • Asking questions that steer students’ thinking. This thinking is based on student’s past knowledge and experience.

  • Asking them to solve simpler versions of problems before introducing more complex ones

  • Offering a worked example – Often solving an example together works wonders.

  • Introducing vocabulary before instruction

  • Dividing learning content into smaller segments

Although scaffolding may vary between lessons, it always involves an increase in questioning rather than a decrease. According to a study by Dr. Johnathan Sweller students were either given a complex problem to solve or two less complex versions of the problem that lead up to the same ultimate task. The average time taken by students to directly solve the complex problem was over five minutes. However, those who were presented with the complex problem after solving two simpler problems took an average of only 90 seconds to solve it. On average, all three problems were solved in three minutes. Including scaffolding problems into the learning process enables students to grasp fundamental concepts that can be applied to more challenging problems. This approach streamlines the learning process, making it more efficient. While using scaffolding techniques it is imperative for teachers to actively engage learners in creating their knowledge instead of making them passive recipients of information Here are 5 scaffolding strategies that will enhance your student’s math skills and make math more enjoyable for everyone involved. First, let’s address the elephant in the room. Why do so many students hate math? According to a study done by the National Math and Science Initiative, over half of high school graduates are not prepared for college-level math courses. This is a staggering number and can lead to students dropping out of college or not pursuing higher education altogether.

  1. Break It Down

Math concepts can be overwhelming, especially when presented as one large, complicated problem. Breaking the problem down into smaller, more manageable segments can help your student understand the concept in steps, eventually helping them climb to the level of solving the complicated problem. For example, let’s say your student is struggling with long division. Instead of presenting them with a large problem like 76932 divided by 18 right away, start by breaking it down into smaller parts. Start with simple division problems like 10 divided by 2 or 15 divided by 3. Then, teach them the ‘Divisibility Rules’ to ensure that they’re able to identify the divisor. This will help in gradually increasing the difficulty level until they are comfortable with longer problems. Another way to break down math concepts is to use visual aids. If your student is struggling with fractions, use a visual aid like a pie chart or grids to help them understand the concept.

2. Provide Real Life Examples Providing examples can be a great way to help your student understand a math concept. By seeing how the concept works in real life, they can better understand how to apply it. This also motivates students to learn a math concept as they will be excited to use it themselves. For example, if your student is learning geometry and is struggling with the Pythagorean Theorem. Provide them with examples of how Pythagorean Theorem is used in real life. Show them how architects use the theorem to design buildings or how engineers use the concept to construct bridges. These examples can then be the scaffold to build complicated concepts of Trigonometry. Another way to provide examples is to use real-life scenarios. If your student is struggling with percentages, show them examples of how percentages are used in calculating tips to the restaurant staff. Once students gain clarity about the concept of percentages, they can solve problems involving profit & loss or even taxes confidently.

3. Use Mnemonics Using mnemonics, particularly those based on letters, in learning is rooted in psychological principles. One such principle is the Primacy Effect, which suggests that when presented with a list of information to memorize, the human brain tends to recall the initial few items better than those in the middle or at the end. Furthermore, individuals tend to attach greater importance or significance to the items positioned at the beginning of the list. Mnemonics can be a great way to help your student remember math concepts. For example, to remember the order of operations (Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction), use the mnemonic PEMDAS (Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally). This can be a fun and memorable way for your student to remember the order of operations for integers. This concept can then be extended to solving challenging algebra problems like solving Linear Equations and Quadratic Equations. Another mnemonic that can be used is FOIL (First, Outer, Inner, Last) for multiplying binomials or SOHCAHTOA to remember trigonometric identities.

4. Ask Questions and Encourage Discussion Encouraging discussion can be a great way to help your student understand math concepts better. By asking a question and then discussing the concept with someone else, they can solidify their understanding and gain new insights. For example, if your student is learning about fractions, encourage them to discuss the concept of fractions with you or their peers. By discussing the concept, they can gain a new perspective and better understand of not only fractions but also related concepts like Ratios and Proportion, Percentages and Decimals. After all of these are different ways of expressing a part of the whole! Another way to encourage discussion is to assign group projects. Group work can be a great way to get your student talking about underlying math concepts in the project and help them learn from their peers.

5. Using Math Intervention Strategies Providing feedback can be a great way to help your student improve their math skills. Using math intervention strategies are designed to address the specific needs of each student and help them build the skills and confidence they need to succeed in math. Feedback can help them identify areas where they are struggling and provide gradual scaffolds to improve in areas of difficulty. For example, if your student is struggling with solving algebraic equations, provide feedback on how to improve their technique. To start with, ask them to find the missing numbers in a simple equation like 8 + ____ = 11. Then replace the blank by a variable to solve a basic linear equation by introducing them to the Addition Property of Equation. Gradually introduce them to other scaffolds like Multiplication Property of Equation and Variables on both sides of the equality sign. Guide them towards the correct solution and provide positive reinforcement when they get it right. Another way to provide feedback is to use self-assessment. Have your student assess their own work and identify areas where they need improvement. This can help them take ownership of their learning and become more self-aware of their strengths and weaknesses.

6. Introducing the Vocabulary before Instruction: Often teachers miss on explaining to students, the name of a concept. For example, when introducing algebra to a student asking them about what they understand by variables and constants will help them grasp the fundamentals of algebra better. Likewise, introducing the students to the roots of words like Linear and Quadratic will change their perception towards algebra learning. Overall, using these scaffolding strategies can make a huge difference in your student’s math skills and help your student build a strong foundation in math and achieve academic success. Teachers can provide scaffolds to students who need remediation, and it’s an excellent approach for students who need enrichment, too.


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