Scaffolding can be defined as the process of gradually removing your support as the student masters a new skill or concept. Teachers should remove all support when the student is fully confident they can successfully complete a task on their own. Rosenshine calls this process “cognitive apprenticeship”, as students learn effective strategies that enable them to become successful learners.
The concept of “scaffolding" was developed by child cognitive psychologist Lev Vygotsky. He believed that the cognitive development of a child was enhanced through the use of collaborative learning methods. By communicating with adults and teachers (people that Vygotsky described as a ‘More Knowledgeable Other’ (MKO)), students were able to make sense of the world and engage with their learning.
Vygotsky found that students who received help from a MKO when completing a new or difficult task that was slightly beyond their ability performed significantly better when asked to complete the same task on their own. Because of this, Vygotsky proposed that all learning takes place in something called the zone of proximal development.
This zone can be defined as the difference between the student’s actual developmental level and the potential level they could achieve with the help of adults or more experienced peers. To progress through this zone, students need guidance from their teachers - otherwise, they won’t be able to reach their full potential. When scaffolding, teachers need to consider the Goldilocks Effect: not enough support and students will become demotivated; too much support and they won’t be challenged enough.
Examples of Classroom Practice
- Use visual aids
- Breaking a big task into smaller sections – chunking
- Model task completion
- Thinking Aloud
- Ask probing questions
- Use checklists or structure
Belland, B. R., Walker, A. E. and Kim, N. J. (2017) ‘A Bayesian Network Meta-Analysis to Synthesize the Influence of Contexts of Scaffolding Use on Cognitive Outcomes in STEM Education’, Review of Educational Research, 87 (6), DOI: 10.3102/0034654317723009