Instructional scaffolding

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Instructional scaffolding is a learning process designed to promote a deeper level of learning. Scaffolding is the support given during the learning process which is tailored to the needs of the student with the intention of helping the student achieve his/her learning goals (Sawyer, 2006).

Instructional scaffolding is the provision of sufficient support to promote learning when concepts and skills are being first introduced to students. These supports may include the following:

Use of instructional scaffolding in various contexts:

  • modeling a task
  • giving advice
  • providing coaching

These supports are gradually removed as students develop autonomous learning strategies, thus promoting their own cognitive, affective and psychomotor learning skills and knowledge. Teachers help the students master a task or a concept by providing support. The support can take many forms such as outlines, recommended documents, storyboards, or key questions.

Essential features of scaffolding[edit]

There are three essential features of scaffolding that facilitate learning.[1][2] The first feature has to do with the interaction between the learner and the expert. This interaction should be collaborative for it to be effective. The second, learning should take place in the learner’s zone of proximal development. To do that the expert needs to be aware of the learner’s current level of knowledge and then work to a certain extent beyond that level. The third feature of scaffolding is that the scaffold, the support and guidance provided by the expert, is gradually removed as the learner becomes more proficient. The support and guidance provided to the learner is compared to the scaffolds in building construction where the scaffolds provide both “adjustable and temporal” support to the building under construction.[3] The support and guidance provided to learners facilitate internalization of the knowledge needed to complete the task. This support is weaned gradually until the learner is independent.[3]

Effective scaffolding[edit]

For scaffolding to be effective teachers need to pay attention to the following: First, the selection of the learning task: The task should ensure that learners use the developing skills that need to be mastered.[4] The task should also be engaging and interesting to keep learners involved.[5] Second, the anticipation of errors: After choosing the task, the teacher needs to anticipate errors the learners are likely to commit when working on the task. Anticipation of errors enables the scaffolder to properly guide the learners away from ineffective directions.[6] Third, the application of scaffolds during the learning task: Scaffolds could be organized in “simple skill acquisition or they may be dynamic and generative”.[6] And finally, the consideration of emotive or affective factors: Scaffolding is not limited to a cognitive skill but it also relates to emotive and affect factors. During the task the scaffolder (expert) might need to manage and control for frustration and loss of interest that could be experienced by the learner.[4] Encouragement is also an important scaffolding strategy.[7]

Theory of scaffolding[edit]

Scaffolding theory was first introduced in the late 1950s by Jerome Bruner, a cognitive psychologist. He used the term to describe young children's oral language acquisition. Helped by their parents when they first start learning to speak, young children are provided with informal instructional formats within which their learning is facilitated. A scaffolding format investigated by Bruner and his student Anat Ninio whose scaffolding processes are described in detail is joint picture-book reading (Ninio & Bruner, 1978). Bed-time stories and read alouds are additional examples of book-centered interaction (Daniels, 1994). Scaffolding comes from Lev Vygotsky's concept of an expert assisting a novice, or an apprentice. Wood, Bruner, and Ross's (1976) idea of scaffolding parallels the work of Vygotsky. They described scaffolding as the support given to a younger learner by an older, more experienced adult. This concept has been further developed by Jesper Hoffmeyer as 'semiotic scaffolding'. Though the term was never used by Vygotsky, interactional support and the process by which adults mediate a child's attempts to take on new learning has come to be termed "scaffolding." Scaffolding represents the helpful interactions between adult and child that enable the child to do something beyond his or her independent efforts. A scaffold is a temporary framework that is put up for support and access to meaning and taken away as needed when the child secures control of success with a task.

A construct that is critical for scaffolding instruction is Vygotsky's concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD). Zone of proximal development is that field between what a learner can do by himself (expert stage) and what can be achieved with the support of a knowledgeable peer or instructor (pedagogical stage) (Ellis & Worthington, 1994). Vygotsky was convinced that a child could be taught any subject efficiently using scaffolding practices by implementing the scaffolds at the Zone of proximal development. Students are escorted and monitored through learning activities that function as interactive conduits to get them to the next stage. Thus the learner obtains or raises new understandings by presenting on their prior knowledge through the support delivered by more capable individuals (Raymond, 2000). Several peer reviewed studies have shown that when there is a deficiency in guided learning experiences and social interaction, learning and development are obstructed (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking, 2000).

In writing instruction, typically support is presented in verbal form (discourse). The writing tutor engages the learner's attention, calibrates the task, motivates the student, identifies relevant task features, controls for frustration, and demonstrates as needed (Rodgers, 2004). Through joint activities, the teacher scaffolds conversation to maximize the development of a child's intrapsychological functioning. In this process, the adult controls the elements of the task that are beyond the child's ability all the while increasing the expectations of what the child is able to do. Speech, a critical tool to scaffold thinking and responding, plays a crucial role in the development of higher psychological processes (Luria, 1979) because it enables thinking to be more abstract, flexible, and independent (Bodrova & Leong, 1996). From a Vygotskian perspective, talk and action work together with the sociocultural fabric of the writing event to shape a child's construction of awareness and performance (Dorn, 1996). Dialogue may range from casual talk to deliberate explanations about features of written language. The talk embedded in the actions of the literacy event shapes the child's learning as the tutor regulates her language to conform to the child's degrees of understanding. Clay (2005) shows that what may seem like casual conversational exchanges between tutor and student actually offer many opportunities for fostering cognitive development, language learning, story composition for writing, and reading comprehension. Conversations facilitate generative, constructive, experimental, and developmental speech and writing in the development of new ideas (Smagorinsky, 2007).

In Vygotsky's words, "what the child is able to do in collaboration today he will be able to do independently tomorrow" (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 211).

Some ingredients of scaffolding are predictability, playfulness, focus on meaning, role reversal, modeling, and nomenclature.[8]

Levels and types of scaffolding in the educational setting[edit]

According to Saye and Brush, there are two levels of scaffolding: soft and hard (2002). An example of soft scaffolding in the classroom would be when a teacher circulates the room and converses with his or her students (Simon and Klein, 2007). The teacher may question their approach to a difficult problem and provide constructive feedback. According to Van Lier, this type of scaffolding can also be referred to as contingent scaffolding. The type and amount of support needed is dependent on the needs of the students during the time of instruction (Van Lier, 1996). Unfortunately, applying scaffolding correctly and consistently can be difficult when the classroom is large and students have various needs (Gallagher, 1997). Scaffolding can be applied to a majority of the students, but the teacher is left with the responsibility to identify additional scaffolding.

In contrast with contingent or soft scaffolding, embedded or hard scaffolding is planned in advance to help students with a learning task that is known in advance to be difficult (Saye and Brush, 2002). For example, when students are discovering the formula for the Pythagorean Theorem in math class, the teacher may identify hints or cues to help the student reach an even higher level of thinking. In both situations, the idea of "expert scaffolding" is being implemented (Holton and Clarke, 2006): the teacher in the classroom is considered the expert and is responsible for providing scaffolding for the students.

Reciprocal scaffolding, a method first coined by Holton and Thomas, is a method that involves a group of two or more collaboratively working together. In this situation, the group can learn from each other's experiences and knowledge. The scaffolding is shared by each member and changes constantly as the group works on a task (Holton and Clarke, 2006). According to Vygotsky, students develop higher-level thinking skills when scaffolding occurs with an adult expert or with a peer of higher capabilities (Stone, 1998). Conversely, Piaget believes that students discard their ideas when paired with an adult or student of more expertise (Piaget, 1928). Instead, students should be paired with others who have different perspectives. Conflicts would then take place between students allowing them to think constructively at a higher level.

Technical scaffolding is a newer approach in which computers replace the teachers as the experts or guides, and students can be guided with web links, online tutorials, or help pages (Yelland and Masters, 2007). Educational software can help students follow a clear structure and allows students to plan properly (Lai and Law, 2006).

Directive scaffolding and supportive scaffolding[edit]

Silliman and Wilkinson (1994) distinguish two types of scaffolding: ‘supportive scaffolding’ that characterises the IRF (Initiation-Response-Follow-up) pattern; and ‘directive scaffolding’ that refers to IRE (Initiation-Response-Evaluation). Saxena (2010)[9] develops these two notions theoretically by incorporating Bhaktin’s (1981)[10] and vanLier’s (1996)[11] works. Within the IRE pattern, teachers provide ‘directive scaffolding’ on the assumption that their job is to transmit knowledge and then assess its appropriation by the learners. The question-answer-evaluation sequence creates a predetermined standard for acceptable participation and induces passive learning. In this type of interaction, the teacher holds the right to evaluate and asks ‘known-information’ questions which emphasise the reproduction of information. The nature and role of the triadic dialogue have been oversimplified and the potential for the roles of teachers and students in them has been undermined (Nassaji and Wells, 2000).[12] If, in managing the talk, teachers apply ‘constructive power’ (Saxena, 2009)[13] and exploit students’ responses as occasions for joint exploration, rather than simply evaluating them, then the classroom talk becomes dialogic (Nystrand, 1997).[14] The pedagogic orientation of this talk becomes ‘participation orientation’, in contrast to ‘display/assessment orientation’ of IRE (van Lier, 1996).[11] In this kind of pattern of interaction, the third part of the triadic dialogue offers ‘follow-up’ and teachers’ scaffolding becomes ‘supportive’. Rather than producing ‘authoritative discourse’ Bakhtin’s (1981),[10] teachers constructs ‘internally persuasive discourse’ that allows ‘equality’ and ‘symmetry’ (van Lier, 1996:175),[11] wherein the issues of power, control, institutional managerial positioning, etc. are diffused or suspended. The discourse opens up the roles for students as the ‘primary knower’ and the ‘sequence initiator’ (Nassaji and Wells, 2000),[12] which allows them to be the negotiator and co-constructor of meaning. The suspension of asymmetry in the talk represents a shift in the teacher’s ideological stance and, therefore, demonstrates that supportive scaffolding is more than simply a model of instruction (Saxena, 2010: 167).[9]

Scaffolding and the role of guidance[edit]

Guidance and cognitive load[edit]

Learner support in scaffolding is known as guidance. While it takes on various forms and styles, the base of guidance is any type of interaction from the instructor that is intended to aid and/or improve student learning.[15] While this a broad definition, the role and amount of guidance is better defined by the instructor’s approach. Instructionists and constructionists approach giving guidance within their own instructional frameworks. Scaffolding involves presenting learners with proper guidance that moves them towards their learning goals. Providing guidance is a method of moderating the cognitive load of a learner. In scaffolding, learners can only be moved toward their learning goals if cognitive load is held in check by properly administered support.

Instructionists tend to give a higher level of guidance in light of the inquiry driven style of learning. With each piece of a complex task being broken down, instructors give guidance for each of the separated parts of the learning. In this way, higher guidance is a function of reducing cognitive load when students are working in a more individual manner. Constructivists approach guidance differently as a result of their focus on transfer. The concept of transfer focuses on a learner’s ability to apply learned tasks in a context other than the modality in which it was learned.[15] This results in constructivists giving a lower level of guidance, as learners work through a complete task, only being given guidance in transfer The role of guidance is to ensure that cognitive load is moderated while the learner works at more complete and complex task; guidance is given during aspects of the task that will help enable transfer.

Amount of guidance[edit]

Research has demonstrated that higher level of guidance has a greater effect on scaffolded learning, but is not a guarantee of more learning.[16] The efficacy of higher amount of guidance is dependent on the level of detail and guidance applicability.[15] Having multiple types of guidance (i.e. worked examples, feedback) can cause them to interact and reinforce each other. Multiple conditions do not guarantee greater learning, as certain types of guidance can be extraneous to the learning goals or the modality of learning. With this, more guidance (if not appropriate to the learning) can negatively impact performance, as it gives the learner overwhelming levels of information.[15] However, appropriately designed high levels of guidance, which properly interact with the learning, is more beneficial to learning than low levels of guidance.

Timing of guidance[edit]

Guiding has a key role both in constructivism and 'instructivism'. For instructivists the timing of guidance is immediate, either at the beginning or when the learner makes a mistake.[15] Immediate feedback can lead to working memory load as it does not consider the gradual acquisition of skill,[17] this also relates to the amount of guidance. Research on intelligent-tutoring systems suggests immediate feedback on errors is not the best strategy to promote learning, as the learner’s short term memory retains enough and is able to learn from the feedback, the longer the wait on feedback, the harder for the learner to integrate it to the overall learning and problem solving.[17] Another study indicated that providing feedback right after the error deprives the learners’ of the opportunity to develop evaluative skills.[18] These two studies indicate that the role of feedback is important and that, although immediate feedback in the short term promotes more rapid problem solving, in the long term delaying feedback can result in better retention and transfer.[15]

Constructivism and guidance[edit]

Constructivism views knowledge as a “function of how the individual creates meaning from his or her own experiences”.[19] Constructivists advocate that learning is better facilitated in a minimally guided environment where learners construct important information for themselves.[20] According to constructivism, minimal guidance in the form of process or task related information should be provided to learners upon request and direct instruction of learning strategies should not be used because it impedes the natural processes learners use to recall prior experiences. In this view, for learners to construct knowledge they should be provided with the goals and minimal information and support. Applications that promote constructivist learning require learners to solve authentic problems or “acquire knowledge in information-rich settings”.[21] An example of an application of constructivist learning is science instruction, where students are asked to discover the principles of science by imitating the steps and actions of researchers.[22]

Instructivism and guidance[edit]

Instructionism are educational practices characterized for being instructor-centered. Some argue instructionism is a highly prescriptive practice, mostly skill-based, product-oriented and non-interactive;[23] or a highly structured, systematic and an explicit way of teaching in which the emphasis is on the role of the teacher as a transmitter of knowledge and the student as passive receptacle.[24] The 'transmission' of knowledge and skills from the teacher to the student in instructionism is often in the form of drill, practice and rote memorization.[24] An ‘instructionist’ focuses on the preparation, organization and management of the lesson making sure the plan is detailed and the communication is effective,.[25][26] The emphasis is on the up-front explicit delivery of instruction.[15]

Instructionism is often contrasted with constructivism. Both of them use the term guidance as means to support learning, and how it can be used more effectively. The difference in the use of guidance includes the philosophical assumptions regarding the nature of the learner,[24] but also the quantity, the context and the timing of guidance.[15] An example of application of instructionism in the classroom is direct instruction.

See also[edit]


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  3. ^ a b Palincsar, A. S. (1986). The role of dialogue in providing scaVolded instruction. Educational Psychologist, 21(1 & 2), 73–98.
  4. ^ a b Wood, D., Bruner, J., & Ross, G. (1978). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 17, 89–100.
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  6. ^ a b Rosenshine, B., & Meister, C. (1992). The use of scaVolds for teaching higher-level cognitive strategies. Educational Leadership, 49(7), 26–33.
  7. ^ Schetz, K., & Stremmel, A. (1994). Teacher-assisted computer implementation: a Vygotskian perspective. Early Education and Development, 5(1), 18–26.
  8. ^ Daniels, H. (1994). Literature Circles: Voice and choice in the student-centered classroom. Markham: Pembroke Publishers Ltd.
  9. ^ a b Saxena, M. (2010) Reconceptualising teachers’ directive and supportive scaffolding in bilingual classrooms within the neo-Vygotskyan approach. Journal of Applied Linguistics & Professional Practice, 7 (2), pp. 163-184
  10. ^ a b Bakhtin, M.M. (1981) The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin. Edited by M. Holquist and translated by C. Emerson and M. Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press.
  11. ^ a b c Van Lier, L. (1996) Interaction in the Language Curriculum: Awareness, Autonomy, and Authenticity. London: Longman.
  12. ^ a b Nassaji, H. and Wells, G. (2000) What’s the use of “triadic dialogue”? An investigation of teacher-student interaction. Applied Linguistics 21 (3): 376--406.
  13. ^ Saxena, M. (2009) Negotiating conflicting ideologies and linguistic otherness: codeswitching in English classrooms. English Teaching: Practice and Critique 8 (2): 167-- 187.
  14. ^ Nystrand, M. (1997) Opening Dialogue: Understanding the Dynamics of Language and Learning in the English Classroom. New York: Teachers College Press.
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  19. ^ Jonassen, D. H. (1991). Objectivism versus constructivism: do we need a new philosophical paradigm? Educational Technology Research and Development, 39 (3), 5-14.
  20. ^ Steffe, L. & Gale, J. (Eds.) (1995). Constructivism in education. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates,Inc.
  21. ^ Kirschner, P. A. (1992). Epistemology, practical work and academic skills in science education. Science and Education, 1, 273– 299.
  22. ^ van Joolingen, W. R., de Jong, T., Lazonder, A. W., Savelsbergh, E., & Manlove, S. (2005). Co-Lab: Research and development of an on-line learning environment for collaborative scientific discovery learning. Computers in Human Behavior, 21, 671-688.
  23. ^ Jonassen, D. H. (Ed.). (1996). Handbook of research for educational communications and technology. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  24. ^ a b c Johnson, G. (2009). Instructionism and Constructivism: Reconciling Two Very Good Ideas. International Journal Of Special Education, 24(3), 90-98.
  25. ^ Adams, G. L., & Engelmann, S. (1996). Research on Direct Instruction: 25 years beyond DISTAR. Seattle, WA: Educational Achievement Systems.
  26. ^ Kameenui, E. J., & Carnine, D. W. (1998). Effective teaching strategies that accommodate diverse learners. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill


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External links[edit]