Scaffolding and the construction of learning


What is Scaffolding?

In its literal meaning scaffolding is the use of a temporary metal or wooden framework that is used to support workmen and materials during construction. Likewise, scaffolding in education refers to a temporary structure which provides assistance to learners when needed in the construction of their learning. It makes it possible for learners to accomplish a challenging task that necessitates help.

The rationale behind scaffolding comes from theoretical arguments as well as from practical reasons. In fact, Based on Vygotsky‘s ideas about  the Zone of Proximal Development, Jerome Bruner and other educational psychologists developed the important concept of instructional scaffolding which they think fades away gradually as this scaffolding becomes unnecessary. Practically, scaffolding is a helpful technique to involve less able learners in the learning process. It is useful for learners to feel safe as support is provided whenever needed. Starting from prior material and step-by-step building new knowledge  with the help of a teacher who is aware of the difficulties of the learning and is ready to throw a just-in-time lifeline.

The role of the teacher

In the light of the definition of scaffolding as explained above, the role of the teacher is no more that of a transmitter of knowledge, but that of an assistant in the construction of knowledge. This view of education has many positive implications. First, while knowledge transmitted is easily forgettable, the learning achieved through a process of construction is memorable and useful. Second, the transformation of the provided data to build new knowledge, many cognitive processes take place. From the reception of the input, through the transformation of this input, to the production, learners are assisted to build hypotheses, test them and adopt the best solutions for themselves. It is a very personalized way of teaching. No learner is left behind. Everyone is given the possibility to accomplish the task at hand.

How to scaffold

Different ways can be used to scaffold:

  • A very useful strategy is to start from prior knowledge of the students.
  • Offering a context which will set the foundations for the construction of the new knowledge.
  • Providing appropriate resources can be of great help to learners.
  • It would be also useful to break a difficult task into easier discrete steps that would assist some learners to achieve the desired goals.
  • Modeling is another way to scaffold as when showing students an example of the target work.
  • Providing cues or hints to solve a problem.
  • Using graphic organizer, historical timelines…
  • Providing templates,  outlines and guides.
  • Teaching key vocabulary and asking focus questions before the accomplishment of a task.

Finally, a key feature of scaffolding is that it is available for just-in-time learning, is skippable by those who don’t need it and fades away when it is not needed anymore as students become more able.

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