What Is Vygotsky Scaffolding? (Definition and Advantages)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 1, 2022

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Teachers can normally tell when some students need extra help to understand new content while they're introducing it to their students. Scaffolding is a process that focuses on a student's ability to imbibe information with the assistance of a more knowledgeable person. If you work in education or a related domain, understanding scaffolding can enable you to assist a student in learning content that they may not have been able to process on their own. In this article, we define what scaffolding is, explain how it works in a classroom, explore the benefits of scaffolding, and examine how to use it effectively.

What is Vygotsky scaffolding?

Vygotsky scaffolding, often known as scaffolding, is a teaching method in which students work alongside someone who has a superior comprehension of the material to help them understand educational content. Students learn more when they collaborate with individuals who have a wider range of knowledge than the student learning the material. The educators or students educating the learners in smaller chunks scaffold the information so that the learner can gain a deeper knowledge of the material than they could on their own. Theorists employ Vygotsky's theory of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) in the classroom to facilitate scaffolding.

ZPD focuses on what a learner can do on their own versus what they can do with the assistance of others. A set of three concentric circles can represent ZPD. The smallest circle denotes what the student is capable of learning on their own. The largest circle surrounds the smaller one and indicates abilities that a student can gain with the assistance of an educator, while the smaller circle represents skills that the student cannot gain yet, even with the assistance of others.

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How does scaffolding work in an educational setting?

Scaffolding is a classroom technique in which a teacher or a capable student assists a student in staying within their ZPD. When a learner and a teacher collaborate, the instructor does a majority of the work, explaining how and why they do things to aid the learner's comprehension of the material. The educator's assistance decreases as the student becomes more familiar with the content, and the learner accomplishes more of the work on their own. The scaffolding gradually reduces until the student has mastered the topic and no longer requires it.

Advantages of scaffolding

These are some ‌advantages of using scaffolding while educating students:

  • Challenges students: Scaffolding requires students to learn beyond their current level of understanding of a topic with the assistance of others. It allows them to study things that may be difficult for them to learn on their own.

  • Engages students: This teaching technique encourages students to interact and discuss in pairs or small groups to gain a better understanding of content. Learners and teachers can work together to improve content engagement.

  • Gives students an opportunity for success: Scaffolding helps students to fulfil educational goals. You can give students precise instructions on how to finish a task and work with them until they learn the aim and can work on their own.

  • Facilitates differentiated learning: Teachers can determine each student's zone of proximal development in smaller classrooms. They can change the format of education for each student based on their zone of proximal development with this information.

Guidelines for using scaffolding in the classroom

These are some guidelines for using scaffolding in the classroom:

  • Select tasks that align with the curriculum's objectives and the requirements of the students.

  • Allow students to design their own instructional goals based on their present zone of proximal development, which may help them become more eager to learn.

  • Use a variety of instructional tools to guide them through a task, such as asking questions, producing diagrams, and discussing relevant stories, to assist learners to create a connection between the material they're learning and knowledge they already know.

  • Encourage learners to use fewer instructional aids as they become more familiar with new content, so they can complete the tasks independently with less instructional scaffolding.

How do educators implement scaffolding?

Teachers use scaffolding to help students learn by gradually moving the learning engagement from the educator to the student. Each stage of the gradual release scaffolding method is as follows:

The "I do" explicit teaching

The teacher directly instructs the class by describing the new information in the first stage of gradual release. They then demonstrate how to execute the task correctly. The learner is usually a passive observer of the learning during the "I do" stage, watching the teacher demonstrate the lesson.

After the teacher has finished instructing and modelling, the teacher can use a fast informal evaluation, such as the thumbs up or down technique or writing a brief response on a whiteboard, to check their pupils' grasp of the topic. Before going on to the second step of the progressive release scaffolding approach, educators can analyze each student individually. This generates a more comprehensive understanding of the unique abilities of each member of the classroom.

The "We do" shared demonstration and guided practice

Students become more responsible for their own learning as teachers proceed to the second level. The educator takes more responsibility for the students practising what they have just learned. This can start with a shared demonstration, in which the teacher demonstrates a different example for students and asks them to complete the task with them. They're completing the example together and learning step-by-step to understand how to do their task independently by doing so.

The "You do" independent practice

The scaffolding goes into the last step of the gradual release procedure after students have proved their capacity to work in small groups and finish the work with minimal aid from the teacher. Students can now finish their work on their own in the third level. This allows teachers to determine which students have understood the content and who may require more individual assistance before moving on to a new or more challenging concept.

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Tips for applying Vygotsky scaffolding effectively

Here are a few tips you can use when implementing scaffolding in the classroom:

Know each student's zone of proximal development

Before commencing scaffolding, it's helpful to know each of your students' ZPD. Before starting a session, give them a pretest or ask them what they know about a topic to determine the extent of their baseline knowledge. Because many students have varying levels of understanding of a topic, some students may likely require less assistance during various scaffolding phases than others. Knowing where each student's ZPD is located allows you to identify which students may require additional help when the "We do" phase of scaffolding begins.

Encourage group work

During the guided practice stage of scaffolding, teachers frequently encourage group collaboration. This is a fantastic opportunity for students who are more familiar with the content to assist those who are less proficient. Collaborating can benefit both the learner and the student who is teaching, as the instructor can gain a greater knowledge of the idea by presenting their perspective, while the learner listens and incorporates the new information into their work.

Use visual aids

During scaffolding, you can use visual aids, like graphic organizers, charts, and pictures, to aid or accelerate the learning process. Students can use diagrams to help them visualize concepts like comparing and contrasting, determining cause and effect, and understanding the phases in a process. Those who have a better knowledge of a subject may be able to finish an assignment without the use of visual aids.

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Have students think aloud

When students discuss their thinking aloud, they're more likely to understand their present zone of proximal development for a particular ability. Consider asking a student to explain why they're making specific decisions on an assignment or project, what they may do next and if they have any questions about it. When advising, it's helpful to clarify your thought process so that students understand how they arrived at an answer or conclusion.

Pre-teach vocabulary

As some lessons require a lot of new vocabulary, introducing it to students before the start of the lesson allows them to become acquainted with it. To activate whatever past knowledge they may have with the vocabulary, try outlining the words for students ahead of time and showing them pictures or brief video clips relevant to the words. Allow students time to study and write down the definitions of important words. Before beginning the lesson, this may assist the students in developing a stronger connection to the meaning of each term.

Teach material in chunks

The lesson you're teaching can be lengthy with a lot of reading, several pages of questions, or difficult arithmetic problems. Instead of assigning all of those tasks on the same day, it's advisable to break the content down into smaller chunks, which may make it more accessible for the students. Grouping the material can help students focus on one job at a time and process information more clearly.

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