The Term "Scaffolding"
After generating enthusiasm in your student, the method you’ll usually want to use is “scaffolding” – demonstrating how to solve a problem then gradually stepping back until your students can do it themselves. Psychologist Jerome Bruner introduced the term in the 1960s. Like with scaffolding on a building site, as the target knowledge nears completion the support structure becomes less and less essential, until it can be removed altogether. Here are the steps broken down:
- Stimulate interest and elicit prior knowledge through questions
- If not, do it yourself, while verbalising your thought process
- Repeat the process once or twice more, asking questions about what you’re doing as you go, to engage the student
- When the student seems to have grasped it, present a new question that needs the same process to answer
- Eventually, after a few questions, you can “fade away”, becoming less involved as the student does more and more of the work themselves. Now the scaffolding has been removed, the building can stand alone, strong and proud
An Example of a "Scaffolder'
My old driving teacher, Dawn, was a great scaffolder. A smiley, chatty woman from deepest Essex, she gave a running commentary as she demonstrated the reverse-round-a-corner manoeuvre: “Press the clutch so you can change gear. Put the car into reverse…” These were things I’d done before. Then she checked her mirrors, and explained that the front of the car was going to swing out so she’d need to look out for other cars. As she slowly reversed around the corner she talked me through what she was looking out for: “We don’t want to go squashing a child now, do we? At least not on the test,” she giggled morbidly. After another demonstration, it was my turn. I talked her through my moves. She was patient and positive with me. “Correct, but what should you be doing first?” she said in her raspy smoker’s voice. After a few more goes from me, Dawn had faded away, becoming a passive observer, allowing me to get on with it.
Some years later I asked Dawn if she knew what a great scaffolder she was. “Whach’ya on about? I don’t go in for heavy lifting.” While clearly instinctive to her, for the rest of us less naturally gifted teachers, it pays to consciously reflect on scaffolding, and bring it to our lessons.