Scaffolding has proven a rich metaphor for eductaional theory. Its everyday roots in the building industry immediately communicate images of assisted climbing and a temporary measure that leads to a more solid construction.
In a useful overview of the research on “scaffolding” Ludwig-Hardman and Dunlap note that although scaffolding is a concept associated with Vygotskian theories of childhood education it is has now been widely adopted as a useful concept in all areas of education. They explain the basic concept:
Scaffolding involves providing learners with more structure during the early stages of a learning activity and gradually turning responsibility over to them as they internalize and master the skills needed to engage in higher cognitive functioning.
According to Ludwig-Hardman and Dunlap research indicates that scaffolding assists learning through a number of key strategies. Scaffolding:
- Provides structure
- Functions as a tool
- Extends the range of the learner
- Allows the learner to accomplish a task that would otherwise not be possible
- Helps to ensure the learner’s success
- Motivates the learner
- Reduces learner frustration
- Is used, when needed, to help the learner, and can be removed when the learner can take on more responsibility
They note particularly that the practice of scaffolding is “an inherently social process in which the interaction takes place in a collaborative context.”
Judith Felson Duchan’s definition helps us move beyond notions of “assistance” or “providing access” which are the most obvious aspects of the building site metaphor. Her delineation includes:
- recruiting the learners interest,
- reducing their choices,
- maintaining their goal orientation,
- highlighting critical aspects of the task,
- controlling their frustration, and
- demonstrating activity paths to them.
These elements highlight that the concept involves both elements of expansiveness and restraint. It is both an interventionist and an empowering model of education, or rather it is a model of empowerment which notes that activating student choices requires more than opportunity and encouragement alone.
In their report of the ongoing development of a student-learning focused assessment processVenkata Yanamandram and Sarah Lambert further note the importance for a sophisticated understanding of the multiple levels of support needed in a scaffolding process.
An important element of scaffolding is fading, which represents gradual removal of support when students can cope with the task independently. Winnips & McLoughlin (2001) contribute further by distinguishing between initial and ongoing support. Initial support is offered at the beginning of the task, and faded so that the student can learn to self regulate. Ongoing support is provided during the task completion and is based on student input.
They suggest that providing clear structures and detailed step by step instructions are part of the initial support stage, this can then be complemented by the provision of online article resources. However ongoing support is required in helping students to work effectively with the tools provided, such as discussions about how to use the research data revealed in the articles.
As a result of these multiple supports, there seemed to be greater engagement with students in the planning stage of their assignment; more meaningful discussion took place during tutorials and student consultation hours of the subject coordinator and tutors, thus allowing opportunities for meaningful feedback from instructors. Thus, the initial support (uploading of articles by instructor and self reading by students) and ongoing support (more meaningful discussion of how to integrate evidence and analyse during instructor consultation hours, which is face to face scaffolding) as suggested by Winnips & McLoughlin (2001) seemed to have positive effects on their tendency to learn deeply.