What is Scaffolding Reflection?

Scaffolding Reflection

In a nutshell:

Scaffolding is a process where the activities performed in the classroom “progressively increase student abilities and agency while reducing teacher-led direction.”1 While scaffolding is a commonly used technique in classrooms, it is often not associated with reflection.  Scaffolding reflection leads to students improving their ability to use personal reflection as a learning tool, thus gaining stronger understanding through experience.

Scaffolding up a building

Why bother?

The reflection teaching model provides students with the ability for better critical thinking skills by using experiences to aid in learning.2  By combining phased scaffolding with reflection, students develop a higher capacity for learning through experience.  The scaffolding-reflection model benefits students seeking employment in a specific trade or those involved in other educational curriculum requirements that include volunteerism, internships or community engagement.

The how-to guide:

Scaffolding Reflection includes four phases:

Phase 1: Learning to Reflect;
Phase 2: Reflection for Action;
Phase 3: Reflection in Action; and
Phase 4: Reflection on Action.1

Curriculum design is an important component of effective scaffolding reflection; the curriculum delivery must be purposefully designed around the four phases to effectively utilize the reflective component in the classroom.  It has been observed that students may not always understand how to reflect, therefore focus on phase one is important before moving into the subsequent phases.

For more information on implementing each of these phases read this article from Texas A&M, which includes a framework for scaffolding reflection.

History lesson:

person reflecting in nature

The framework of scaffolding student reflection for experience-based learners has its roots in education and was developed by Debra Coulson and Marina Harvey to develop teachers’ ability to effectively incorporate reflection into experience-based learning curriculum in higher education.1 They contend that scaffolding reflection during each of the four learning phases will positively contribute to learning through experience.

The bottom line:

This teaching technique may not be the most effective for all classrooms, but there is strong support for experience-based teaching delivered in sequenced phases for students admitted into degree or certificate programs that require skill proficiency upon graduation.

Programs, such as fire-fighting, law enforcement, emergency medical response, paramedic, plumbing, construction and nursing all require the successful completion of state-mandated proficiency testing for eligibility of state licensure.

Some elements of scaffolding combined with the reflection model of teaching is being employed or mimicked in many vocational, technical and/or community colleges.



  1. Coulson, Harvey, M., 2013. “Scaffolding Student Reflection for Experience-based Learning: The Framework.” Teaching in Higher Education. 18(4): 401-413.
  2. Harvey, M., D. Coulson, J. Mackaway, and T. Winchester-Seeto. 2010. ‘‘Aligning Reflection in  the Cooperative Education Curriculum.’’ Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education 11 (3): 137152.

Want more info?

  • Coulson, Harvey, M., 2013. “Scaffolding Student Reflection for Experience-based Learning: The Framework.” Teaching in Higher Education. 18(4): 401-413.

About the author:

Debora Hanssen is a retired police officer and NDSU Criminal Justice Ph.D. student.

KeywordsInstructional, What is?. OTL blog   Doc ID131839
OwnerLinda C.GroupIT Knowledge Base
Created2023-10-03 09:13:02Updated2023-10-03 11:03:56
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