Diverse learners usually have difficulty working independently and require extensive guidance at first. "Scaffolding" refers to the personal guidance, assistance, and support that a teacher, peer, or task provides to a learner. Students with disparate academic backgrounds and skills need more assistance and support, while higher performing students need less. Forms of scaffolding include teacher modeling, extracting critical skills from text, initially teaching skills in "contrived" (less demanding) contexts, clarifying confusing information, and providing multiple examples before expecting students to perform independently (Dixon, et al., 1996).
However, if instruction remains too accommodating students will not eventually become independent. To counter the "dumbing down effect" that often results from highly accommodating instruction, scaffolding should be mediated. Mediated scaffolding provides a systematic transition from the initial teacher-directed, modeled, structured, prompted practice within defined problem types to a more naturalistic environment of student-directed, unstructured, unpredictable problems that vary widely across all problem types. This transition can be provided by gradually changing the design of the tasks and examples or by changing the level of assistance that a teacher may provide.
Because scaffolding is a dynamic process, as learners become more competent, the scaffolding is removed by purposively moving slightly ahead of the learner on the imaginary continuum. As learners grow in competence and independence, effective instruction moves along the continuum. Information about the learner's level of competence in the targeted instructional activity determines what level of scaffolding should be provided.