Instructional scaffolding

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Instructional scaffolding is a learning process designed to promote a deeper level of learning. Scaffolding is the support given during the learning process which is tailored to the needs of the student with the intention of helping the student achieve his/her learning goals (Sawyer, 2006).

Instructional scaffolding is the provision of sufficient support to promote learning when concepts and skills are being first introduced to students. These supports may include the following:

Use of instructional scaffolding in various contexts:

These supports are gradually removed as students develop autonomous learning strategies, thus promoting their own cognitive, affective and psychomotor learning skills and knowledge. Teachers help the students master a task or a concept by providing support. The support can take many forms such as outlines, recommended documents, storyboards, or key questions.

Effective scaffolding[edit]

The best and most effective use of instructional scaffolding helps the learner figure out the task at hand on their own. It is best to think of the use of instructional scaffolding in an effective learning environment as one would think of the importance of scaffolding in the support of the construction of a new building. Instructional scaffolding is most effective when it contributes to the learning environment. In an effective learning environment, scaffolding is gradually added, then modified, and finally removed according to the needs of the learner. Eventually, instructional scaffolding will fade away. This learning process should never be in place permanently. Eventually, the goal should be for the student to no longer need the instructional scaffolding.

Theory of scaffolding[edit]

Scaffolding theory was first introduced in the late 1950s by Jerome Bruner, a cognitive psychologist. He used the term to describe young children's oral language acquisition. Helped by their parents when they first start learning to speak, young children are provided with informal instructional formats within which their learning is facilitated. A scaffolding format investigated by Bruner and his student Anat Ninio whose scaffolding processes are described in detail is joint picture-book reading (Ninio & Bruner, 1978). Bed-time stories and read alouds are additional examples of book-centered interaction (Daniels, 1994). Scaffolding comes from Lev Vygotsky's concept of an expert assisting a novice, or an apprentice. Wood, Bruner, and Ross's (1976) idea of scaffolding parallels the work of Vygotsky. They described scaffolding as the support given to a younger learner by an older, more experienced adult. This concept has been further developed by Jesper Hoffmeyer as 'semiotic scaffolding'. Though the term was never used by Vygotsky, interactional support and the process by which adults mediate a child’s attempts to take on new learning has come to be termed “scaffolding.” Scaffolding represents the helpful interactions between adult and child that enable the child to do something beyond his or her independent efforts. A scaffold is a temporary framework that is put up for support and access to meaning and taken away as needed when the child secures control of success with a task. Cazden (1983) defined a scaffold as “a temporary framework for construction in progress” (p. 6). For example, parents seem to know intuitively how to scaffold their children’s attempts at negotiating meaning through oral language. The construction of a scaffold occurs at a time where the child may not be able to articulate or explore learning independently. The scaffolds provided by the tutor do not change the nature or difficulty level of the task; instead, the scaffolds provided allow the student to successfully complete the task.

A construct that is critical for scaffolding instruction is Vygotsky’s concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD). Zone of proximal development is that field between what a learner can do by himself (expert stage) and what can be achieved with the support of a knowledgeable peer or instructor (pedagogical stage) (Ellis & Worthington, 1994). Vygotsky was convinced that a child could be taught any subject efficiently using scaffolding practices by implementing the scaffolds at the Zone of proximal development. Students are escorted and monitored through learning activities that function as interactive conduits to get them to the next stage. Thus the learner obtains or raises new understandings by presenting on their prior knowledge through the support delivered by more capable individuals (Raymond, 2000). Several peer reviewed studies have shown that when there is a deficiency in guided learning experiences and social interaction, learning and development are obstructed (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking, 2000).

In writing instruction, typically support is presented in verbal form (discourse). The writing tutor engages the learner’s attention, calibrates the task, motivates the student, identifies relevant task features, controls for frustration, and demonstrates as needed (Rodgers, 2004). Through joint activities, the teacher scaffolds conversation to maximize the development of a child’s intrapsychological functioning. In this process, the adult controls the elements of the task that are beyond the child’s ability all the while increasing the expectations of what the child is able to do. Speech, a critical tool to scaffold thinking and responding, plays a crucial role in the development of higher psychological processes (Luria, 1979) because it enables thinking to be more abstract, flexible, and independent (Bodrova & Leong, 1996). From a Vygotskian perspective, talk and action work together with the sociocultural fabric of the writing event to shape a child’s construction of awareness and performance (Dorn, 1996). Dialogue may range from casual talk to deliberate explanations about features of written language. The talk embedded in the actions of the literacy event shapes the child’s learning as the tutor regulates her language to conform to the child’s degrees of understanding. Clay (2005) shows that what may seem like casual conversational exchanges between tutor and student actually offer many opportunities for fostering cognitive development, language learning, story composition for writing, and reading comprehension. Conversations facilitate generative, constructive, experimental, and developmental speech and writing in the development of new ideas (Smagorinsky, 2007).

Children use oral language as a vehicle for discovering and negotiating emergent written language and understandings for getting meaning on paper (Cox, 1994; Dyson, 1983, 1991). Writing and speech as tools can lead to discovery of new thinking. The teacher offers levels of verbal and non-verbal demonstrations and directions as the child observes, mimics, or shares the writing task. With increased understanding and control, the child needs less assistance. The teacher’s level and type of support change over time from direction, to suggestion, to encouragement, to observation. Optimum scaffolds adapt to the child’s tempo, moving from other-regulation to self-regulation. The child eventually provides self-scaffolding through internal thought (Wertsch, 1985). Within these scaffolding events, teaching and learning - both inseparable components - emphasize both the child’s personal construction of literacy and the adult’s contributions to the child’s developing understandings of print. The child contributes what she can and the adult contributes so as to sustain the task (Teale & Sulzby, 1986).

Using a Vygotskian theoretical framework, Wertsch and Stone (1984) examine scaffolded instruction in a one-to-one remedial clinic setting with a learning-disabled child. The researchers show how adult language directs the child to strategically monitor actions. Analysis of communicative patterns shows a transition and progression in the source of strategic responsibility from teacher or other-regulated to child or self-regulated behaviors. In Vygotsky’s words, “what the child is able to do in collaboration today he will be able to do independently tomorrow” (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 211).

Some ingredients of scaffolding are predictability, playfulness, focus on meaning, role reversal, modeling, and nomenclature.[1]

Levels and types of scaffolding in the educational setting[edit]

According to Saye and Brush, there are two levels of scaffolding: soft and hard (2002). An example of soft scaffolding in the classroom would be when a teacher circulates the room and converses with his or her students (Simon and Klein, 2007). The teacher may question their approach to a difficult problem and provide constructive feedback. According to Van Lier, this type of scaffolding can also be referred to as contingent scaffolding. The type and amount of support needed is dependent on the needs of the students during the time of instruction (Van Lier, 1996). Unfortunately, applying scaffolding correctly and consistently can be difficult when the classroom is large and students have various needs (Gallagher, 1997). Scaffolding can be applied to a majority of the students, but the teacher is left with the responsibility to identify additional scaffolding.

In contrast with contingent or soft scaffolding, embedded or hard scaffolding is planned in advance to help students with a learning task that is known in advance to be difficult (Saye and Brush, 2002). For example, when students are discovering the formula for the Pythagorean Theorem in math class, the teacher may identify hints or cues to help the student reach an even higher level of thinking. In both situations, the idea of "expert scaffolding" is being implemented (Holton and Clarke, 2006): the teacher in the classroom is considered the expert and is responsible for providing scaffolding for the students.

Reciprocal scaffolding, a method first coined by Holton and Thomas, is a method that involves a group of two or more collaboratively working together. In this situation, the group can learn from each other's experiences and knowledge. The scaffolding is shared by each member and changes constantly as the group works on a task (Holton and Clarke, 2006). According to Vygotsky, students develop higher-level thinking skills when scaffolding occurs with an adult expert or with a peer of higher capabilities (Stone, 1998). Conversely, Piaget believes that students discard their ideas when paired with an adult or student of more expertise (Piaget, 1928). Instead, students should be paired with others who have different perspectives. Conflicts would then take place between students allowing them to think constructively at a higher level.

Technical scaffolding is a newer approach in which computers replace the teachers as the experts or guides, and students can be guided with web links, online tutorials, or help pages (Yelland and Masters, 2007). Educational software can help students follow a clear structure and allows students to plan properly (Lai and Law, 2006).

Scaffolding and problem-based learning in the educational setting[edit]

Scaffolding is often used in order to support problem-based learning (PBL). When using PBL, learners in the classroom become researchers and often work in small groups to analyze problems, determine solutions, and evaluate solutions (Hoffman and Ritchie, 1997). In one study, medical students using PBL were shown to develop a deeper understanding, improve retention of material, and increase overall attitude, compared to other students who did not use PBL (Albanese and Mitchell, 1993). Many educators incorporate PBL in their classrooms in order to engage students and help them become better problem solvers. Scaffolding may help the success of PBL in the classroom. Teachers must identify the content that needs scaffolding (support), choose the appropriate time to implement the support, decide the right method to follow, and determine when the scaffold can be removed (Lajoie, 2005).

Promoting better learning: scaffolding[edit]

Effective learning environments use instructional scaffolding to aid the student in his/her construction of new knowledge. Avoid telling the learner exactly how to accomplish the task; do not solve the problem for the learner. This may help the learner immediately, but it hinders the learning process. It is important to promote better learning by helping the learner achieve his/her learning goal through the use of instructional scaffolding. The use of scaffolding helps the learner to actively build and construct new knowledge.

Making Scaffolding Learning Tangible[edit]

One of the best way is to make the learning more tangible, so that both students and teacher can get a better view of progress. This asserts continuous sense of achievements. Not speaking of video game which is popular due to the instant gratification. However, via robotics engineering with scaffold learning process will captivate the learners' attention and increase motivation to the next deeper level of understanding in the subject matter. Besides, the progress is visual and tangible.

There are not many organization for pre-college levels practice that scaffold learning process. One small institution in New Jersey named Storming Robots which models its programs around this process. One Robotics competition organization named RobocupJunior cultivates Robotics Engineering with scaffolding learning model as well.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Daniels, H. (1994). Literature Circles: Voice and choice in the student-centered classroom. Markham: Pembroke Publishers Ltd.


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