Scaffolding? What’s that?

The Art of Scaffolding

By: C.Q. Wilder, M.Ed

May 30, 2014

The famous Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) introduced the concept zone of proximal development. The zone of proximal development, abbreviated as ZPD, is “the distance the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers.” (Vygotsky, 1987, p.86) Vygotsky believed that having interactions with peers was an effective way to develop skills and strategies. One goal of ZPD is to identify the level of the student’s independent thinking to identify areas that need support (comprehension, sentence framing, thought process, vocabulary, etc.) Essentially, it’s meeting the students where they are to build them to become independent thinkers and problem solvers.

Wood et al. (1976) defines scaffolding as “Those elements of the task that are initially beyond the learner’s capacity, thus permitting him to concentrate upon and complete only those elements that are within his rang of competence.” Scaffolding is a technique used to support students during the building time of comprehension and critical thinking. It’s just like scaffolding on a building; it’s a temporary support system that supports those at a construction site. Scaffolding in education is the same way. It’s a support system that targets students where they are and is temporarily used by establishing a base and growing from there.

Benefits of using effective scaffolding:

  • Unattainable tasks are now made simple.
  • It’s a great way to control the child’s level of frustration (identify where the frustration is and stop there to provide support.)
  • The learner is able to gain and maintain interest on the given task.
  • Focusing on certain concepts and items that will help solve the problem or provide the solution.
  • Opportunities to demonstrate the task and eventual mastery of task.
  • If you decide to track the correct and incorrect answers, you can track how long you need to use scaffolding. The goal should be that a child or student reaches 80-85% mastery on any given task.

How to use scaffolding during lessons:

  • Make sure to periodically check the learner’s current knowledge and how they are experiencing the academic content they are learning. (Ask questions like, “What did you just read? What did you just learn? Summarize the last sentence or paragraph you just read?)
  • Find a way to connect what students know to what they are learning. (If a child is reading about monkey’s and you just took a trip to the zoo, as the child what they remember about the zoo, what animals did they see, how did it make them feel, etc.)
  • Break down the task. If the child is expected to read a whole page but looses their distraction within minutes, have the child read one paragraph and then talk about it. Follow this same process for the whole page.)
  • Prompt the child or student with verbal cues or prompts. A great way to receive a complete thought is to start off with a sentence starter prompt. (If you are asking a child to tell you a fact about a monkey, you can start them off with, “One fact about a monkey is……” By providing these sentence starters, it takes the task of preparing how to answer a question off the child to allow them to think more about the answer.)
  • Only use temporarily so that student’s don’t end up relying solely on the teacher or person instructing them. The goal is to make the child an effective independent thinker.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wood, D., Bruner, J., &Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Pyschology and Child Psychiatry, 17, 89-100.