Activity 5

Scaffolding

Although Vygotsky never employed the word himself, he was the first to develop the concept of ‘scaffolding'. Many of his experiments explored ways in which children developed concepts in collaboration with adults and he tested out ways in which adults could offer assistance to children in order to solve problems which were slightly beyond their ability.

David Wood and his colleagues (Wood et al. 1976) were the first to use the word ‘scaffolding' in an educational context. They defined scaffolding as "a form of adult assistance that enables a child or novice to solve a problem, carry out a task or achieve a goal which would be beyond the child's unassisted efforts".

REFLECT: How similar is the concept of 'scaffolding' to the concept of the ‘zone of proximal development'?

READ: Read the section on 'scaffolding' from Chapter 2 of Learning Through Enquiry by Margaret Roberts and note the key points made.

In the 1980s, David Wood developed a theory of contingent teaching to try to explain differences in levels of control exercised by adults within the ZPD. You can read an explanation of this theory in Wood's own words in How Children Think and Learn, second edition.

Wood suggests that those who teach contingently are those who teach most effectively. They give support when needed and at a level appropriate to the stage which the child is at. They then progressively withdraw their scaffolding as the child begins to achieve independence.

On pages 75 to 81 of How Children Think and Learn, Wood defines five levels of control in the context of puzzle construction and gives an example for each.

  1. General Verbal prompt (GVP) "What else do we need?"
  2. Specific Verbal Instruction (SVI) "Take all the pieces out of the box"
  3. Indicates Materials (IM) Points to bricks needed.
  4. Prepares for Assembly (PFA) Orients bricks for fitting together
  5. Demonstrates (DEM) Assembles bricks for child

Each successive level is more controlling than the one before. Wood showed that when children are having difficulty with the task, adults increase their level of control. Conversely, and most significantly, where it is clear that a child is capable of managing parts of the task independently, adults will decrease the level of support.

WRITE: Write an account of one of your own lessons in which you scaffold learning in some way. (If you have access to a tape recorder, you could record the lesson and make a transcription of some of the key moments but this is not compulsory). Use Wood's theory of contingent teaching to explain how you managed the scaffolding.

(Allow 35 minutes)