Fading distributed scaffolds: the importance of complementarity between teacher and material scaffolds

Nicole D. Martin, Catherine Dornfeld Tissenbaum, Dana Gnesdilow, Sadhana Puntambekar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Designing learning environments with distributed scaffolding—support distributed across different instructional tools, activities, and the teacher—can help support students’ different needs, but a critical question is how the design incorporates the hallmark feature of responsive support. While most material scaffolds in instructional tools are inherently static, teachers can complement support provided in material scaffolds by providing responsive assistance and mediating students’ interactions within their environment to both support and challenge students. Our study explores the interplay between support embedded in instructional materials and scaffolding provided by teachers. We focused on how teachers’ scaffolding complemented the fading material scaffolds in a paper-and-pencil tool and how this combination of support impacted students’ learning of science practices and content. Differences in teachers’ responsive versus static scaffolding moves corresponded with differences in students’ performance as material scaffolds faded in support. One teacher complemented support provided by the material scaffolds by frequently monitoring students’ understanding and providing additional support as needed, even when material scaffolds faded; her students maintained a high level of performance throughout the unit. In contrast, the other teacher tended to extend the static kind of scaffolding found in the instructional materials rather than adapt support to his students’ needs as material scaffolds faded; his students showed a significant decrease in performance over time. Our findings show that the complementarity between responsive scaffolding moves from the teacher and scaffolding embedded in instructional materials is important for effectively supporting the wide range of students’ needs in the classroom.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)69-98
Number of pages30
JournalInstructional Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 15 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Distributed scaffolding
  • Fading
  • Scaffolding
  • Teacher mediation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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