Scaffolding is a term in education that describes coaching or modeling methods provided by a teacher, aimed at helping pupils to develop a new skill or learn new concepts. Scaffolding in education can be compared to scaffolding in construction — scaffolding in the classroom is removed when students achieve competence in the relevant area.

In scaffolding, the teacher explains an assignment to the students, brings the task to the relevant level of difficulty, breaks it into a sequence of operations, provides feedback and finally helps students master the new knowledge. Many strategies used in 21st century classrooms, including demonstration, modeling and shared writing, are directly connected to the main principles of scaffolding.

The term scaffolding in its educational context was first used by the American psychologist Jerome Seymour Bruner (1915-). He examined the way parents interact with their children to help them learn. He saw that at first parents provided their children with high degrees of support. However, they would gradually withdraw the support until the child could perform the specific task on his or her own.

Scaffolding as a method in teaching was proposed by Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934). He developed the theory of the Zone of Proximal Development. According to that theory, the teacher should introduce a new concept to pupils and give them all the assistance they might need in the start of the teaching process. Later the teacher would introduce new lessons and leave his or her students to handle the new knowledge alone.

According to Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development, it was important to define the level of difficulty that a student will be able to handle and the rate of accomplishment to be achieved. The theory also examines the determination of the moment in which the students will need the assistance of their teacher and how much accomplishment will he achieve under supervision and assistance. The Zone of Proximal Development includes many more practices and rules. It is considered a foundation for scaffolding in education.

Scaffolding has four key qualities. The first principle of scaffolding is that it occurs with assistance. Someone more experienced, a teacher or in some cases a peer, supports the learner to acquire knowledge, a skill or just to grasp an idea. That assistance is carefully designed to challenge the learner to do something he or she has not been able to do before. Thus the learner effectively draws on the greater knowledge of his or her teacher or peer.

Scaffolding is also focused. It focuses the learner on a specific skill and restricts the degree of freedom, while a task is being performed. Thus a student is able to concentrate better on that task. For example, when a teacher tries to teach pupils how to write a persuasive argument, he or she would show them how to shape the opening paragraph only, instead of modeling how to write the whole piece.

Scaffolding tries to avoid failure by scaling down the scope of failure in a task. An example for that are the stabilizers on a bike, which are used when a child is learning to ride. At school, a teacher can avoid failure by the method of shared writing, for example. In shared writing the teacher and students compose a text together and together contribute their ideas to the process.

The last major quality of scaffolding is temporariness. The process of scaffolding should not be permanent as it involves both providing support and being able to effectively and timely withdraw it. Janet Maybin defines scaffolding as "temporary, but essential, nature of the mentor's assistance as the learner advances in knowledge and understanding."

In the 21st century, scaffolding is one of the most widely used methods of teaching. It is important to note that letting a child take responsibility for his or her learning is a slow process that takes time. For that reason scaffolding is best applied by more experienced teachers that have competent skills for it to produce the targeted results.

Scaffolding: Selected full-text books and articles

Children's Development within Social Context: Research and Methodology By Lucien T. Winegar; Jaan Valsiner Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, vol.2, 1992
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "Scaffolding and Self-Scaffolding: Central Aspects of Development"
Talking, Listening, Learning: Effective Talk in the Primary Classroom By Debra Myhill; Susan Jones; Rosemary Hopper Open University Press, 2006
Librarian's tip: "Scaffolding Learning through Interaction" begins on p. 9
Contexts for Learning: Sociocultural Dynamics in Children's Development By Ellice A. Forman; Norris Minick; C. Addison Stone Oxford University Press, 1993
Librarian's tip: Chap. 6 "What Is Missing in the Metaphor of Scaffolding?"
Motivating Reading Comprehension: Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction By John T. Guthrie; Allan Wigfield; Kathleen C. Perencevich Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Librarian's tip: Chap. 3 "Scaffolding for Motivation and Engagement in Reading"
Speaking, Reading, and Writing in Children with Language Learning Disabilities: New Paradigms in Research and Practice By Katharine G. Butler; Elaine R. Silliman Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002
Librarian's tip: Chap. 7 "Promises and Pitfalls of Scaffolded Instruction for Students with Language Learning Disabilities"
Word Recognition in Beginning Literacy By Jamie L. Metsala; Linnea C. Ehri Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998
Librarian's tip: Chap. 15 "Effective Beginning Literacy Instruction: Dialectical, Scaffolded, and Contextualized"
Internet Environments for Science Education By Marcia C. Linn; Elizabeth A. Davis; Philip Bell Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Librarian's tip: Chap. 3 "The Scaffolded Knowledge Integration Framework for Instruction," Chap. 9 "The Web-Based Inquiry Science Environment (WISE): Scaffolding Knowledge Integration in the Science Classroom," and Chap. 13 "Specific Design Principles: Elaborating the Sca
Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology By David H. Jonassen Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004 (2nd edition)
Librarian's tip: Chap. 31 "Cognitive Apprenticeship in Educational Practice: Research on Scaffolding, Modeling, Mentoring, and Coaching as Instructional Strategies"
Emotional Scaffolding: An Exploration of the Teacher Knowledge at the Intersection of Student Emotion and the Subject Matter By Rosiek, Jerry Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 54, No. 5, November-December 2003
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Maternal Scaffolding in the Child's Zone of Proximal Development across Tasks: Cross-Cultural Perspectives By Kermani, Hengameh; Brenner, Mary E Journal of Research in Childhood Education, Vol. 15, No. 1, Fall-Winter 2000
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Parental Scaffolding of Children's Phonological Awareness Skills: Interactions between Mothers and Their Preschoolers with Language Difficulties By Skibbe, Lori; Behnke, Michelle; Justice, Laura M Communication Disorders Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4, Summer 2004
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
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