Authors: Anne West (The University of Georgia), Janet Swanson, and Lindsay Lipscomb
What is Scaffolding?
The term ‘scaffolding’ comes from the works of Wood, Bruner and Ross (1976). The term ‘scaffolding’ was developed as a metaphor to describe the type of assistance offered by a teacher or peer to support learning. In the process of scaffolding, the teacher helps the student master a task or concept that the student is initially unable to grasp independently. The teacher offers assistance with only those skills that are beyond the student’s capability.
Of great importance is allowing the student to complete as much of the task as possible, unassisted. The teacher only attempts to help the student with tasks that are just beyond his current capability. Student errors are expected, but, with teacher feedback and prompting, the student is able to achieve the task or goal. When the student takes responsibility for or masters the task, the teacher begins the process of “fading”, or the gradual removal of the scaffolding, which allows the student to work independently.
“Scaffolding is actually a bridge used to build upon what students already know to arrive at something they do not know. If scaffolding is properly administered, it will act as an enabler, not as a disabler” (Benson, 1997).
Many different facilitative tools can be utilized in scaffolding student learning. Among them are: breaking the task into smaller, more manageable parts; using ‘think aloud, or verbalizing thinking processes when completing a task; cooperative learning, which promotes teamwork and dialogue among peers; concrete prompts, questioning; coaching; cue cards or modeling.
Others might include the activation of background knowledge, giving tips, strategies, cues and procedures. Teachers have to be mindful of keeping the learner in pursuit of the task while minimizing the learner’s stress level. Skills, or tasks too far out of reach can lead a student to his frustration level, and tasks that are too simple can cause much the same effect.
Each facilitative method used is chosen as an individually tailored instructional tool. Teachers have to have open dialogue with the students to determine what and how they are thinking in order to clear up misconceptions and to individualize instruction.
Crucial to successful scaffolding is an understanding of the student’s prior knowledge and abilities. The teacher must ascertain what the student already knows so that it can be “hooked”, or connected to the new knowledge and made relevant to the learner’s life, thus increasing the motivation to learn.