Scaffolding learning: principles for effective teaching and the design of classroom resources

cover Effective Teaching and Learning

Taber, K. S. (2018). Scaffolding learning: principles for effective teaching  and the design of classroom resources. In M. Abend (Ed.), Effective Teaching and Learning: Perspectives, strategies and implementation (pp. 1-43). New York: Nova Science Publishers.

This is one of two chapters (the other written with Dr Richard Brock) in this book considering the theme of scaffolding.


What is scaffolding?

The notion of ‘scaffolding’ is widely used in educational circles. The term was used by Bruner and his colleagues when applying ideas of the Soviet psychologist (and polymath) Lev Vygotsky on how education can support a person’s development.

When used correctly scaffolding refers to a kind of support given to a learner that enables to them to (a) successfully engage in activities that they cannot undertake unsupported, AND (b) begin to internalise new skills/knowledge such that they develop competence that will allow them to succeed in these tasks unaided in future.

In practice however the term scaffolding is often used much more loosely as if it is synonymous with supporting. So sometimes any support offered by  teachers is referred to as scaffolding, regardless of whether the learner needs it, or is developing towards competence through being supported.


Teaching in the zone

However,  I suspect this is because the technical use of scaffolding requires assessment of the learner’s potential (in term of what is technically known as their ZPD, or zone of proximal development) and careful design of matching support that can be faded (slowly reduced) as the learner comes to need less support, until they can manage without any scaffolding. That’s quite a challenge for teachers – especially as every child in a class is different.

The chapter discusses and explores these ideas, and considers the kinds of tools teachers might develop to put this kind of support, true scaffolding, in place. (The other chapter written with Richard discusses a small study to test out some of these principles.) It is hoped this treatment might be helpful for teachers who are intrigued by the idea of scaffolding but are not sure how to apply the idea in classroom teaching.


The abstract:

Within educational discourse, the idea that teachers should ‘scaffold’ student learning is extremely widespread, yet it is often less clear what this means in the classroom beyond the teacher structuring learning activities and offering students support. Many teachers associate the term with the educational thinking of Vygotsky, but they are often less clear what would comprise an effective teaching scaffold. This chapter reviews use of the term scaffolding in teaching and explains the purpose of scaffolding in the context of Vygotsky’s developmental theory. The chapter draws upon Vygotsky’s spatial metaphor for how learning activities could be positioned in relation to the learner’s current and potential levels of development. This activity ‘space’ is divided into three zones: scaffolding has potential to support learning that can facilitate student development, but only when the learning activity is located in the central zone (the ZPD) and is mediated through scaffolding. The chapter offers an analysis of the function of scaffolds, their role in classroom differentiation, and the logic of ‘fading’ (reducing scaffolding as learning proceeds). This suggests principles that teachers need to take into account in order to effectively employ scaffolding as a strategy in their teaching. Scaffolding can be based on direct mediation through dialogue between a learner and a teacher, but in classroom teaching there are severe constraints on how much one-to-one interaction each individual learner can access. Teachers wishing to scaffold learning therefore have to design learning activities and support materials that will place students in their ZPD. To illustrate this process, two distinct types of scaffolding tools are characterised in relation to different stages in the scaffolding of learning new conceptual schemes and frameworks.

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