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Masters of Special Education with Academic Instruction Certification

Scaffolding and Differentiated Instruction - Topic 33

What is it?

Scaffolding and differentiated instruction are ways of providing instruction to students based on their learning needs (Tomlinson, 2001). Scaffolding entails cognitively supporting learners as they progress toward a goal, gradually shifting responsibility from the teacher to the student as the student becomes more able. Differentiated instruction includes adaptations to curricula to meet the needs of individuals. Common criticisms of these kinds of supports and adaptations are that students may be stigmatized by the perception of receiving preferential treatment or that the curriculum is not rigorous enough.  An approach to differentiation that uses the same curriculum for all students is called, differentiated curriculum enhancements (Mastropieri et al., 2006).  Differentiation occurs in small-group or peer-tutoring arrangements. Students with special learning needs are given extra practice, increased time with materials that are less difficult, and elaborative learning strategies. Three examples of differentiated curriculum enhancements that have been used in science and social studies classes are fact sheets, differentiated activities and embedded mnemonic elaboration.

Why is it important?

Teachers are likely to have students of mixed abilities present in the classes they teach. Research demonstrates that students with high incidence disabilities achieve more when they are given more time, engaged in relevant activities, and questioned about information directly related to objectives. Elaboration of information and activation of prior knowledge are also key to supporting students with learning disabilities. Adapting instruction to allow students with learning difficulties access to the general curriculum is critical to their success.


Greenwood, C. (1997). Classwide peer tutoring. Behavioral and Social Issues, 7, 53-57.

Mastropieri, M. A., Scruggs, T. E., Norland, J., Berkeley, S., McDuffie, K., Tournquist, E. H., And

Conners, N. (2006). Differentiated curriculum enhancement in inclusive middle school science:

Effects on classroom and high-stakes tests. Journal of Special Education, 40, 130-137.

Tomlinson, C. A. (2001) How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms. (2nd ed.).

Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Web Links

The IRIS Center for Training Enhancements

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