Scaffolding – building knowledge from the ground up

Teaching Assistants (TAs) play a crucial part in children’s learning and development. As well as supporting the class as a whole, TAs often provide specialist support to children on a one-to-one basis, including those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Given the importance of the TA role, it’s vital that Teaching Assistants have the skills and knowledge required to effectively support children’s learning in the classroom.

But what tools and strategies do Teachers and Teaching Assistants use to support children’s learning? One technique is Scaffolding.


Scaffolding is a technique whereby the ‘teacher’ makes moment by moment decisions about what level of input is needed to support a child’s learning. If the task is too challenging, or the level of support is too little, the child is unlikely to learn. Equally, if the task is too easy, or too much support is provided, the child won’t be challenged sufficiently and is unlikely to learn anything new.

A recent study by (Bosanquet & Radford, 2019) explored the use of scaffolding by teaching assistants in two primary schools in England. They found that TAs tended to use a high degree of support to pupils taking part in reading activities. For example, if the child tried to read a word but failed, the TA would often instruct the child to ‘sound the word out’ before the child had been given time to identify the strategy independently. This would be repeated throughout the activity. When substantial clues are given to a child, little independent effort is required from the child.

How can I use scaffolding?

If you are supporting a child on a reading task, consider the amount of cues you are providing. You may need to prompt the child to ‘sound it out’ once, but then the next time they come across a tricky word, try holding back from prompting the child. This allows the child the opportunity to identify the strategy themselves. This process of gradually reducing the amount of support provided is called ‘fading’. Remember, the goal is to enable children to become independent. By gradually reducing the amount of correction and prompting, you are enabling the child to truly master the skill. Rather than focusing on completing the task, remember to focus on the process of learning.

A Tool for All

Scaffolding can used with individuals of all ages and abilities and applied to all kinds of tasks. It is a highly effective tool for monitoring our own interactions with children, helping us to help them become confident, capable and independent learners.

North of England Training have provided Teaching Assistant Apprenticeships and Qualifications to hundreds of Teaching Assistants across the North West including Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Cheshire. To enquire about our qualifications and training, contact us here, or speak to one of our advisers by calling 01257 208830.



Bosanquet,P. & Radford, J, 2019, Teaching assistant and pupil interactions: The role of repair and topic management in scaffolding learning, British Journal of Educational Psychology, Volume 89, Issue 1, 177-190