A scenario

Figure1. Source:

Marcus is a senior form Physics teacher in a band one school while both the managements and students target to excel for success in each year’s public examination. Notwithstanding Marcus has dedicated in the school for long, he feels exhausted to align with tight timeline, intense curriculum and heavy administrative duties and finds little room to train up his students in examination strategies.

While attending a seminar about e-learning organized by a local vendor, he realizes kind of a web based question bank is available for school uses. What Marcus needs to do is to go through the question bank by topics, selects questions of interest, generates the online question paper and has it distributed to his students in an online manner. Marcus even notices that customized settings are allowed, such as date and time for completion, result analysis or not, etc. What he finds the most beneficial character of the platform is prompt diagnosis of common misconceptions by his students while Marcus further offers remedial lessons plus additional questions on those in response to the diagnosis. Have you come across/heard about something like this before? How would you comment about its effectiveness in daily learning and teaching?    



Generally, Scaffolding refers to

  • process of tutor’s controlling task elements that are beyond the learners’ capabilities so that they can concentrate upon and complete only those elements that are within his range of competence (concentrate upon and complete only those elements that are within his range of competence, 1976).
  • the support given during the learning process which is tailored to the needs of the student with the intention of helping the student achieve his/her learning goals (Sawyer, 2006)
  • appropriate intervention with the purpose of enabling a learner to move forward (Pritchard & Woollard, 2010)

Typically, learners receive Scaffolding through the help of peers, teachers, virtual community sources, or other computer-based tutors to help learners gain an understanding that would not be possible by the learner alone.

Reviewed by Printchard and Woollard (2010), there is a wide range of variety of scaffolds can be employed in practice, such as support, prompt, critical listener, provider of feedback, simplifier, motivator, highlighter and so on. Through scaffolding, learners solve problem, generate solutions, and gain insights that would ordinarily rest beyond their independent abilities (Bonk & Cunningham, 1998).


Basic Assumptions and Principles

While the term scaffolding was first introduced by David Wood with Jerry Bruner and Gail Ross in the context of an analysis of tutor-child interaction that enables a child or novice to solve a problem, carry out a task or achieve a goal which would be beyond his unassisted efforts, formulating and conceptualizing the ideas concerning scaffolding was clearly influenced by Vygotsky's work.

Vygotsky stressed that learners need to be guided by more competent partner(s) to solve the problem they could not handle alone. In other words, learners need to be ‘scaffolded’ in a given situation to make progress across their ZPD.

To be of benefit, Scaffolding must be temporary - when the learner shows signs of handling the task in question, the scaffolding can be removed gradually until it is no longer needed.

  • Initially the scaffold helps learners acquire skills that they would be unlikely to acquire without the assistance.
  • The scaffolding helps to minimize the extrinsic load so learners can focus their resources on the intrinsic demands of the learning.
  • As learners develop a schema to work with the information, the scaffold assistance can be removed gradually until it is no longer needed.

Classroom Implication and Teaching Strategies

Bereiter and Scardamalia (1987) define two types of scaffolding. In procedural facilitation, the researcher or teacher assists the student with a task by prompting executive processes. This differs from substantive facilitation, in which the researcher directly assists students with the content of a task.

Procedural facilitation - Langer & Applebee (1986) further derive a checklist of options to scaffold cognitive strategies:

  • offer examples for imitation
  • set up structures to help self-monitoring
  • limit choices
  • make cognitive process visible
  • provide labels to categorize and organize tacit knowledge

Substantive facilitation - Reduces the burden of the executive structure by providing explicit guidance on the conventions and standards in a given domain


NAPLeS Webinar Series by Iris Tabak and Brian Reiser: Scaffolding



Presentation Slides: SCAFFOLDING



Required Reading

Puntambekar, S., & Hubscher, R. (2005). Tools for scaffolding students in a complex learning environment: What have we gained and what have we missed? Educational Psychologist, 40(1), 1-12.




Tabak, I. (2004). Synergy: A complement to emerging patterns of distributed scaffolding. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 13(3), 305-335.




Tabak, I., & Baumgartner, E. (2004). The teacher as partner: Exploring participant structures, symmetry and identity work in scaffolding. Cognition and Instruction, 22(4), 393-429.