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Providing Appropriate Scaffolding

1. Appropriate Scaffolding

The use of appropriate scaffolding is one of the eight evidence-based practices for language learners.

Like all students, language learners need rigorous, standards-aligned instruction with intellectually rich tasks that challenge and engage them, including abundant opportunities to interact and collaborate with peers. Teachers use appropriate scaffolds to support students as they engage in challenging intellectual tasks and collaborative learning that allows them to practice and develop academic discourse. Scaffolds need to be purposeful, flexible, and future oriented, allowing students to gradually progress toward independence.

Scaffolding is not a mere help oriented to task completion. Scaffolding is a temporary support that meets students where they are (the zone of proximal development) and moves them towards a particular learning target, and eventually towards independence.

In order to scaffold rigorous academic learning, it is important to balance challenge and support of both language and content learning.

  • Identify the challenges that language and content pose for students.
  • Design planned scaffolding that supports language/content learning.
  • Utilize just-in-time scaffolding to support students during the learning.

ELA/ELD Framework, Ch.2, p.100

Scaffolding is:

…the just right kind of support which enables a student to begin to build, and eventually appropriate knowledge that builds her own autonomy (Walqui and van Lier, 2012).

2. The Great Eight Instructional Scaffolds for Talk

3. Making Input Comprehensible

Comprehensible input is an oral or written message that can be understood by students (listening, reading) even if they don’t understand all the words and linguistic structures present in the message. Even though there is a great variability in what constitutes comprehensible input for different students, teachers can utilize a variety of strategies and practices to support comprehension for language learners. See below for different ways of making input comprehensible.

4. Linguistic Supports

Linguistic supports are scaffolds that provide students with support for linguistic production, such as sentence stems, formulaic expressions, question stems, etc. Here we offer sentence stems and question stem resources in English and Spanish, as well as instruction on the leveled or tiered questioning strategy.

5. Scaffolding During Designated and Integrated ELD

Designated ELD instruction is a protected time during the regular instructional day when teachers use the ELD standards as the focal standards. Designated ELD lessons are carefully planned with clear language objectives and appropriate scaffolding for each proficiency level.

Since the focus of instruction during designated ELD is on English language development that is specific to the linguistic needs stemming from the students’ language proficiency levels, teachers take into consideration these proficiency levels to design tasks that include appropriate scaffolds. These scaffolds are aligned to the needs of students as well as the complexity and novelty of the tasks. As students become more familiar with the tasks, the linguistic functions and forms, and the topics they are working on, the scaffolding provided can be gradually decreased and eventually removed,  as appropriate.

The Proficiency Level Descriptors (PLDs) within the ELD standards provide descriptions of three general levels of support: substantial, moderate, and light. These descriptions are intended to provide guidance on the extent of linguistic scaffolding most likely needed at each proficiency level. However the PLDs also state that “The extent of support needed varies depending on the familiarity and complexity of the task and topic, as well as on the student’s English language proficiency level.” (CA ELD Standards, Ch. 2, p. 19). The chart below provides information on each of these three general levels of support.

Proficiency Level Descriptors and General Extent of Support  (CA ELD Standards, Ch. 2, p. 20)

English learners possess cognitive abilities appropriate to their age and experience. In order to communicate about their thinking as they learn English, they may need varying linguistic support, depending on the linguistic and cognitive demand of the task.

Emerging Level

General Level of Support: Substantial

Students at the early stages of the emerging level can engage in complex, cognitively demanding social and academic activities requiring language when provided substantial linguistic support; as they develop more familiarity and ease with understanding and using English, support may be moderate or light for familiar tasks or topics.

Expanding Level

General Level of Support: Moderate

Students at the early stages of the expanding level can engage in complex, cognitively demanding social and academic activities requiring language when provided moderate linguistic support; as they develop increasing ease with understanding and using English in a variety of contexts, support may be light for familiar tasks or topics.

Bridging Level

General Level of Support: Light

Students at the early stages of the bridging level can engage in complex, cognitively demanding social and academic activities requiring language when provided light linguistic support; as they develop increasing ease with understanding and using highly technical English, support may not be necessary for familiar tasks or topics using everyday English.

Life-Long Language Learning

General Level of Support: Occasional

Students who have exited the bridging level benefit from occasional linguistic support in their ongoing learning of English.


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Produced by San Diego County Office of Education, MEGA Department (2021)
Made possible by a grant from the CCEE