Maternal Scaffolding in the Child's Zone of Proximal Development across Tasks: Cross-Cultural Perspectives
Kermani, Hengameh, Brenner, Mary E., Journal of Research in Childhood Education
Abstract. This study examined cultural differences in the amount and type of maternal scaffolding of children's learning and their effects on children's independent performance across two distinct activities: goal-oriented vs. free play. Twenty Iranian immigrant and 20 Anglo-American mothers with their preschool children participated in this study. Analyses of maternal scaffolding revealed that Iranian immigrant mothers were more directive in their teaching strategies than Anglo-American mothers in the goal-oriented activity. These differences disappeared in the free play, however. Furthermore, maternal sensitivity was examined in relation to task demand and children's level of competence. No cultural differences were observed between the two groups of mothers' sensitivity to their children's level of competence: Both groups altered their teaching strategies to adjust to the task demand, as well as to the child's level of competence. An examination of children's independent performance revealed no cultural di fferences: The children performed equally well. The authors observed a clear connection between culture and mothers' selection of particular scaffolding strategies in relation to the activity type and the child's level of competence. The study suggests that maternal sensitivity to the child's level of competence may carry a greater weight in terms of instructional outcomes than does the maternal communicative pattern. The findings specifically recommend the need for re-evaluating parental scaffolding strategies to 1) include an appreciation of their effectiveness and appropriateness, and 2) differentiate parental directives from parental intrusiveness and control.
In the past few years, a great deal of attention has been directed to the social context of children's development of cognitive skills (e.g., Baker, 1994; Bruner, 1985; Fleer, 1992; Resnick, 1991; Rogoff 1990; Sternberg & Williams, 1995; Tudge & Rogoff, 1989). Much of this attention stems from Vygotsky's (1978) sociocultural theories, especially his notion about the zone of proximal development (ZPD), which represents the difference between what a child can do with adult guidance and what he/she is able to do independently (Levine, 1993). According to Vygotsky, children's future independent performance is largely dependent upon the types of guidance provided by the adult in the ZPD. Adults create the zone and mediate the process of learning by providing guidance that reflects cultural values.
Much of the early research on cognitive socialization was done in the context of mother-child interactions, which remains a strong focus for contemporary parenting behavior research. Using Vygotsky's perspective, Wood, Bruner, and Ross (1976) introduced the concept of "scaffolding" to describe the supportive strategies adults use to guide children in solving cognitive problems. This concept has been used most frequently to describe the kinds of instructional exchanges that take place in informal educational situations, such as parent-child interactions. Rogoff and Wertsch (1984) developed this concept further in their presentation of the terms "orchestration" or "transfer" to describe the process from other-regulation to self-regulation. Successful scaffolding requires establishing "intersubjectivity," or a shared understanding of the task (Newman, Griffin, & Cole, 1989; Rogoff, 1990; Rommetveit, 1974). In this process, the caregiver leads the child toward such understanding and helps him/her develop his/her own conception of the task. Such an outcome is achieved by creating a balance of support through scaffolding. This process has been called "assisted performance" (Tharp & Gallimore, 1988), "cognitive apprenticeship" (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Rogoff, 1990), "guided participation" (Rogoff, 1991), and "responsive teaching" (Gaskins, Anderson, Pressley, Cunicelli, & Satlow, 1993). Together, these theories present a consensus about socially mediated models of learning. …