Vygotsky and Socio-cultural Learning

What is scaffolding in an educational context?

The idea of using scaffolding in education was first introduced by Wood, Bruner, and Ross (1976). They defined scaffolding as an “adult controlling those elements of a task that are essentially beyond the learner’s capacity, thus permitting him to concentrate upon and complete only those elements that are within his range of competence” (1976). Scaffolding is helpful with understanding how to aim instruction within what Vygotsky calls a child’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). It can support and promote the child’s learning and development.

What is the role of scaffolding?

The role of scaffolding is to increase the child’s repertoire of skills and understandings by breaking the steps down into manageable, achievable pieces of information. The more knowledgeable other (MKO) not only helps motivate learners by providing just enough support to enable them to accomplish the goal, but also provides questions that might help learners to solidify information (Wood, et al., 1976). Keep in mind that scaffolding is a gradual process where the child will learn to perform independently so that new, more challenging skills or information can be introduced by the expert (Stone, 1998).

How can I use scaffolds in education?

To facilitate the transition from assisted to independent learning, a teacher needs to scaffold student learning by first designing and then following a plan for providing and withdrawing appropriate amounts of assistance at appropriate times (Tools of the Mind, 2014). Some examples of scaffolding, according to Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (2000) include tasks that:

* Motivate or enlist the child’s interest related to the task

* Simplify the task to make it more manageable and achievable for a child

* Provide some direction in order to help the child focus on achieving the goal

* Clearly indicate differences between the child’s work and the standard or desired solution

* Reduce frustration and risk

* Model and clearly define the expectations of the activity to be performed

* Use hints, prompts or cues

* Encourage social interactions through play or designed group activities

* Introduce children to special tools and behaviours they can use.

Therefore, scaffolding...

… provides a child with a great deal of support during the early stages of learning.

Please watch the following video and be ready to discuss the importance of providing scaffolds in student learning and development.

Why is important to use scaffolds in learning and development?

Scaffolding Chat


  1. Craig

    I’m really appreciating how these videos are places in your pages. Just when I feeling like an example – there it is in a brief and impactful real-life application. The point that hit home to me in the Teaching Matters Youtube was “chunk and differentiate.” It’s a refreshing modular view of how concepts and tasks can be broken down into parts. These parts vary in their accessibility to different students, so the challenge of the teacher is provide the right support for that student in the given context. The only thing that daunts me is the responsibility of knowing the learning styles of your students to the extent that you can scaffold on the fly, in addition to any planned manner

    • Gary B

      Hi Craig,
      Thank you for your comments! Much appreciated and helpful, too. I am especially struck by your last sentence because–maybe it’s arrogance, age, my eternal optimism, a careless attitude, or some combination of all of the above (plus other traits I hadn’t considered)–I find myself rather enjoying the prospect of scaffolding on the fly. In fact, when I come to think of it, a superintendent once complimented me on my ability to do that after a lengthy observation, and I have never been daunted by it ever sense. So maybe his positive encouragement has something to do with my “enjoyment” of the challenge, too.

    • Alana

      I agree, Craig, there’s a steep learning curve for teachers, too, particularly at the beginning of the year as we get to know our students’ particular needs and styles. I wonder if it might be more beneficial for teachers to be grade-promoted along with students, so that they have an extended period of time to work with students. For instance, a teacher might teach K, 1, & 2 to a certain class. In my position at an alternate school, I get students who range in age from Gr9-12, and they stay with me until they graduate. It’s been a powerful arrangement, as I can build strong relationships with my students over the years and really get to know their learning styles, needs, etc. I don’t know if that could work within a mainstream school, but it’s a possibility.


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