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Scaffolding: What, Why, How

TESOL 2012, Philadelphia

Chris Roe, Ed.D.
Associate Professor
CSU Stanislaus
Joan Wink, Ph.D.
Professor emerita
CSU Stanislaus

What the child can do in cooperation today, he[she] can do alone tomorrow. Therefore the only good kind of instruction is that which marches ahead of development and leads it . . .
(Vygotsky, 1986, p. 188; as cited in Wink & Putney, 2002, p. 85).

Session Description:
Scaffolding in all content areas for all students is required of all teachers today. The purpose of this interactive session is to demonstrate multiple ways of scaffolding across the content areas for elementary, intermediate, and secondary students. The presenters will share diverse and unique examples of scaffolding.

Scaffolding: What is it?
Scaffolding is how we structure our strategies to make content more comprehensible for students. Scaffolding is the gradual withdrawal of the teacher’s pedagogical support when a student moves from learning in groups to independent learning and mastery.

Scaffolding: Why?
To lead the learner to her next developmental level
To make language and content comprehensible and accessible
To reduce statistics like these:
Top 5 Reasons Students drop out:

  1. Bored 47%
  2. Missed too many days (43%)
  3. Spent time with others not interested in school (42%)
  4. Too much freedom/no rules (38%)
  5. Failing (35%)

(From: Assam, A. The prepared graduate: Why students drop out. April 2007 | Volume 64 | Number 7, pps. 91-93)

Scaffolding: The Historical Context
Wood, Bruner, and Ross (1976) coined the term when they wrote about a tutor who was interacting with child and a wooden puzzle of a pyramid. Wood et al state that the two are working on “a ‘scaffolding’ process that enables a child or novice to solve a problem, carry out a task or achieve a goal, which would beyond his unassisted efforts” (p. 90). Read more

Scaffolding originated with Vygotsky’s notion of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).

What is the ZPD?

. . .the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers (Vygotsky, 1986, p. 86; as cited in Wink and Putney, 2002, p. 86)

Many think of scaffolding in the construction business, but it is now almost a prerequisite skill for all teachers. It is particularly effective with students who are in the process of acquiring a new language.

Scaffolding: How
Scaffolding involves teachers planning to front-load the pedagogical supports with a gradual and planned pull-back of these supports, as students move from learning collaboratively to demonstrating their new knowledge independently.

An archetypal format:

The teacher will:
The class will:
The individual will:


Roe, C., & Wink, J. (2012, in process). Scaffolding Strategies in Content Areas
Wink, J.
Central Ideas of Vygotsky,
Reflective Cycle
Garrett: How to do Writing Workshop.

Wink, J., & Putney, L. (2002). A vision of Vygotsky. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Wood, D., Bruner, J., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving.
Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 17, 89-100.
Vygotsky (1986). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Resource List of Scaffolding Strategies used in the Activity Centers:
Story Boards
Cloze procedure
Pull in prior knowledge
Key vocab: Simplify and extend
Sequencing of strategies and content
Technology As the More Capable Peer
Create a problem-solving task for whole group
Create a problem-solving task for small group
Create a problem-solving task for individual
Math: terms used in lesson- students define, draw, explain, and provide another
Social Studies: connect history to present day example
Science: model, students replicate, explain in own terms, teach another
Language Arts: Speaking/Writing prompt
PE: Demonstrate activity without words, students replicate
Art: Show, interpret, Show
Music: Sing/Play piece, students repeat, add parts, put together

Other Internet Resources:
Calumet Purdue
Forever in First
Scaffolding In Education
CARLA from U of MN

Lev Vygotsky and His Central Ideas


The central ideas of Vygotsky, followed by Vygotsky in wink-speak, with all apologies to the legacy Lev.

Higher levels of cognition are expressed through language, which is
developed in social processes.
Or, talk is our tool.
Social processes affect higher mental functions.
Or, we talk with others, and we get smarter.Our cognitive capacities are social in origin.
Or, we generate our own knowledge – kids do, too.

The interactive process between language and thoughts affects both.
Or, words and ideas join together to help us understand.

Our social, historical, and cultural contexts affects our thought, language, perception, problem-solving, and cognition.
Or, our lived experiences make a difference.

Central to being human is manipulating signs and mediating meaning, which is all determined by social relations.
Or, talking with and listening to others, determines the path we take.

Mediation of meaning is socially-grounded.
Or, if students are denied the use of their dominant language, they are
denied equal access to education.