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Scaffolding in Education: Definition, Theory & Examples

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  • 0:04 Definition and Theory
  • 0:39 General Process
  • 1:40 Scaffolding Lesson Example
  • 2:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Firestone
This lesson defines scaffolding in education and examines how it's used in the learning process. Learn about the theory behind scaffolding and the origins of the term, then test your knowledge with a brief quiz.

Definition and Theory

In the field of education, the term scaffolding refers to a process in which teachers model or demonstrate how to solve a problem, and then step back, offering support as needed. Psychologist and instructional designer Jerome Bruner first used the term 'scaffolding' in this context back in the 1960s. The theory is that when students are given the support they need while learning something new, they stand a better chance of using that knowledge independently. Bruner recommends positive interaction and three modes of representation during teaching: actions, images, and language.

General Process

First, a teacher begins teaching at the level the students can understand, and then she builds on that understanding. She then presents the problem and thinks aloud as she goes about solving it. In the process, she shows how a solution is arrived at by combining actions, images, and language. She then does the following:

  • She repeats this process two more times, asking questions of the students along the way.
  • Each answer, right or wrong, receives a positive response from her, to encourage participation.
  • More students are asked to respond to the question each time it is repeated.
  • Correction is provided as needed but reinforced positively.
  • When understanding appears to be achieved, students join her in solving a new problem.
  • Understanding is checked as they solve problems. If more instruction is needed, more modeling is provided.
  • If students then demonstrate knowledge, she fades, or steps away, and allows students to work independently, offering support as needed.

Scaffolding Lesson Example

Let's look at an example. If a student is struggling with sentence fragments, the teacher might scaffold the problem in the following way:

First, she present an example of a sentence fragment:

If you eat all of those cookies.

A teacher might read this out loud, and then ask, 'Why do we call this a fragment?' Students respond about why they think it's called a 'fragment.' She then says, 'Maybe if we added more information, the sentence would make sense.' Students offer their ideas on how to do this. She chooses one and writes:

If you eat all of those cookies, you won't be hungry for dinner.

This process is repeated two more times with different examples. Students should be given the chance to say the sentence out loud as the teacher writes out each sentence. When the students appear to understand, the teacher 'fades.' They are given sentence fragment problems to correct on their own, and the teacher offers support for any questions or lack of understanding.

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