How 'Scaffolding' Can Boost Your Child’s Reading Confidence

This technique helps kids become stronger readers at home and in the classroom — all while keeping reading fun!
By Jacob Biba
Oct 18, 2019

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Oct 18, 2019

As parents, we always want to help our children achieve their reading goals and provide support along the way. In the education world, there’s a term for this: scaffolding. 

Not to worry, this has nothing to do with construction. Instead, scaffolding is a technique in which you break reading into smaller pieces with activities that help your child achieve a goal that would otherwise seem like a stretch. For instance, perhaps your child wants to read their first chapter book: Reading it out loud together, using story-time questions, and pausing to let your child predict what happens next are great examples of the “scaffolding” (or support) you can provide along the way.

“Scaffolding is in the zone of proximal development, in which a student can do something with the aid and support of a peer or teacher, ” says Justine Marie Bruyère, Ph.D., a lecturer in the teaching and learning department at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. “That zone is in between the things that the student can do independently and the things the student cannot yet do.”  

Just like with construction, scaffolding in education is meant to be a temporary measure — and you can use these supportive techniques just as long as your child needs. Once the infrastructure of their reading skills is soundly in place, these temporary measures can be removed. Your child's teacher might refer to this as "gradual release." The more intentional we are about scaffolding reading instruction and learning at home, the more dramatic the results will be, both at home and in the classroom. (To get started, round out your child's bookshelves with best sellers from The Scholastic Store!)

Here are five smart ways you can use this technique — no hard hat required. 

Step 1. Nudge children along with questions.

Bruyère suggests pausing halfway through a read-aloud to encourage your child to predict what will happen next, which will help move your young reader into a place of deeper, more thoughtful understanding of the story. You can also ask your child to choose a character and describe them using only descriptive words or adjectives, and then make a game out of it by guessing which character they’re referring to.

Bruyère also recommends encouraging children to consider how the story would be the same or different if told from another character’s point of view. You can also ask your child what a certain character might say or do in your world. (Doing this with the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is a great option, because it’s already so relatable for kids!) Then, have your child jump into the story. What would they be doing or saying? 

Step 2. Don’t stop at the last page.

Books should serve as a springboard for continued learning and conversation, both inside and outside the home. “From a parent's perspective, it's not just read the book, close it, and then we're done,” says Bruyère. “It's more of an interactive process.”

When you’re stuck in traffic, ask your child questions about the main character of the book they’re reading. It’s this continued conversation that adds extra value to the reading experience, and it can also expand your child’s vocabulary

Step 3. Embrace creativity and drama.

Creating and illustrating a comic strip or acting out a scene inspired by a story is a great way to move beyond a book and help your child think about a text critically. (For instance, after your child has read a Dog Man book, they can use the Dog Man: Guide to Creating Comics in 3-D to continue the story!) 

Bruyère also suggests discussing with your children what may have happened before or after the story takes place, and acting out those scenes together. “Scaffolding reading happens naturally when you ask these critical questions because children are unlocking these different understandings, and they're able to think about counter-narratives and multiple perspectives,” says Bruyère. (Here are six more smart strategies to boost reading comprehension.)

4. Know your audience and be flexible.

“Part of really good reading instruction is thinking about what children are interested in right now,” says Bruyère. Always consider your child’s interests — and topics on the periphery of those interests and their natural curiosity — when looking for new books to introduce to your child. 

To get started, here are the top children’s book trends for this school year. Also check out the best books for reluctant readers in 1st and 2nd grade

5. Make it joyful.

Finally, always remember to make reading and the support you provide to your child as joyful as possible. Whether it’s through engaging, open-ended questions that encourage critical thinking, or acting out a scene inspired by a story you and your child have just read, your reading instruction and the scaffolding you provide should be an invitation for learning. "It can't be an assignment at home,” says Bruyère. “It must be an invitation to a joyful activity."

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