skills that are beyond the student’s capability. The teacher only attempts to help the student with tasks that are just beyond his current capability.
Student errors are expected, but, with teacher feedback and prompting, the student is able to achieve the task or goal. When the student takes the responsibility for or masters the task, the teacher begins the process of fading or the gradual removal of the scaffolding, which allows the student to work independently.(Lipscomb et al., 2004).
Gauvain (2005) believes that “the process is learner focused: assistance by the teacher is contingent on the learner’s immediate needs, with the aim of developing the learner’s competence in a specific knowledge base or skill” (p.130).
By carefully monitoring the child’s progress, the more experienced partner adjusts the activity to make it accessible to the child and provides assistance when needed. In a successful encounter, as the child’s skill increases, the more experienced partner reduces the amount of support so that eventually the child can execute the task in a skilled fashion on his or her own (Gauvain, 2005).
According to Granott (2005) and based on Wood, et al’s (1976) definition “Problem-solving that is beyond one’s unassisted efforts but which can be achieved with assistance also identifies the ZPD…. Most researchers view scaffolding and the ZPD as closely related” (p.141). According to Verenikina (2003) “The zone of proximal or potential development was initially elaborated for psychological testing in schools” (p.4).
Vygotsky (1978) stated that testing should be based not only on the current level of a child’s achievements but also (and mainly) on the child’s potential development. The actual level of development (level of independent performance) does not sufficiently describe development. Rather, it indicates what is already developed or achieved; it is a ‘yesterday of development’. The level of assisted performance indicates what a person can achieve in the near future, what is developing, (potential level, ‘tomorrow of development’, what a person ‘can be’).
Vygotsky (1978) suggests that there are two parts of a learner’s developmental level: the ‘actual developmental level’ and the ‘potential developmental level’. The zone of proximal development is “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” (p.86).
The zone of proximal development can also be described as “the area between what a learner can do by himself and that which can be attained with the help of a ‘more knowledgeable other’ adult or peer. The ‘more knowledgeable other’, or MKO, shares knowledge with the student to bridge the gap between what is known and what is not known. Once the student has expanded his knowledge, the actual developmental level has been expanded and the ZPD has shifted” (Lipscomb, et al, 2004).
According to Hammond and Gibbons (2001) the major significance of the ZPD is that it suggests the upper and lower limits, or the zone, within which new learning will occur. If the instruction is too difficult, the learner is likely either to be frustrated or to tune out. If it is too low, the learner is presented with no challenge and simply does not learn anything.
Here is a model, adopted from Hill and Crevola (cited in Wilson, 2009), to exemplify the account of a focused teaching by scaffolding:
2.7. ZPD in the Classroom
Coffey (2012) believes that in a classroom setting, the teacher is responsible for structuring interactions and developing instruction in small steps based on tasks the learner is already capable of performing independently- an instructional strategy known as scaffolding. The instructor is also charged with providing support until the learner can move through all tasks independently.
In order for teachers to guide learners through the tasks associated with learning a concept, they must understand how cognitive tasks fit into the child’s cultural activities. These tasks are called scaffolds which are tasks or levels on which the teacher builds to develop learners’ zone of proximal development. According to Zeuli (1986) “Instruction should emphasize connections to what the learner already knows in other familiar, everyday contexts” (p.7).
Vygotsky (1962) suggests that these connections do not have to take place immediately, but that in the course of further schoolwork and reading, learners can make the association between concept and experience. He describes the teacher’s role as assisting students in the recognition of decontextualized, systematic concepts.
Within the classroom, the person who is more knowledgeable is not always the teacher; students can also be placed in collaborative groups with others who have demonstrated mastery of tasks and concept (Vygotsky, 1962).
2.8. Learning from a Sociocultural Perspective
Walqui (2006) explains that socio-cultural theory is based primarily on the work of Vygotsky. She reports that the main tenets of Vygotsky’s learning theory can be summarized as follows:
Learning precedes development. Traditional psychology assumes that learning can only be successful after the learner shows that the relevant mental functions have already matured. Instead, Vygotsky proposes that learning is only useful if it is ahead of development, that is, if it challenges learners to think and act in advance of their actual level of development.
Language is the main tool of thought. Vygotsky does not claim that there is no thought before language. Rather, he claims that thought and language arise separately but that when language arrives on the scene, thinking and speech intermingle and merge, and in so doing transform one another so that both become quite different as a result of their merger. Language starts as social speech, as dialogue.
Mediation is central to learning. In its most literal sense, mediation is the use of a tool to accomplish some action. The child learns to use tools of various kinds: sticks, cups, spoons and so on. Many of those tools are culturally and historically produced. They are made available to the child in social interaction, thus adding another level of mediation: activity mediated by tools is mediated by social interaction. When language comes along, it provides the most powerful mediation tool of all: mediation by signs, or semiotic mediation.
Social interaction is the basis of learning and development. Vygotsky emphasises that social interaction precedes the development of knowledge and ability. Consciousness, the notions of self and identity, physical skills and mental abilities, all these have their origin in social interaction between the child and parent, and between the child, peers and others, including teachers.
ZPD is the primary activity space in which learning occurs (p.160).
2.9. The Mind and Scaffolding
Jones (2001) believes that to Vygotskey, cognitive development takes place through the interweaving of two lines of development: the biological and the socio-cultural. The biological or natural line accounts for basic mental functions such as involuntary memory, perception and attention. The socio-cultural line transforms those basic mental functions into higher mental functions such as generalizing, abstracting, and volitional memory.
Vygotsky, distinguished between involuntary memory and volitional memory. In involuntary memory something is remembered. For example, the sight of a product on a supermarket shelf may remind you that you need to purchase that item. On the other hand, volitional memory may be stimulated through the conscious use of a list of grocery item. Thus, an individual’s cognitive development is not just a matter of biological maturation but involves cultural practices developed over time, in institutions and played o
ut in local settings (Jones, 2001).
Jones (2001) continues that Vygotsky was also interested in the interpersonal aspects of cognitive development. He believed that what we achieve collaboratively is a better indicator of our cognitive functioning than what we achieve individually. Through interaction in a shared, culturally meaningful context, the external collaborative activity becomes internalized, thus driving individual cognitive growth.
Thus, considering Vygotsky’s social view of mind, knowledge is collaboratively constructed; it is built, rebuilt and transformed by teachers and learners through participation in successively elaborated sequences of scaffolded activities. Although activities may involve a range of meaning-making resources, language- particularly talk- has a special role in negotiating knowledge, as it is the means through which meanings are made available, modified and contested among participants. In a social view of the mind, then, cognition is a sequence of interactions which take place in socio-cultural practices such as those of schooling. (Jones, 2001).
2.10. Educational Scaffolding: an Instructional Technique
Wilson (2009) defines educational scaffolding as “instructional technique where the teacher models the desired learning strategy or task and gradually shifts responsibilities to the students. Another way of scaffolding is when the teacher identifies a weakness in the child’s understanding of the material presented in class and then supplements it with other materials or a different way of teaching” (p.1).
2.10.1. Characteristics of Educational Scaffolding
McKenzie (1999) believes that there are at least eight characteristics of scaffolding:
1) Scaffolding provides clear directions
Instructional designers try to anticipate any problems or uncertainties, writing user-friendly directions in ways that minimize confusion, place a premium on clarity and speed students toward productive learning.
2) Scaffolding clarifies purpose
Students are let in on the secret early. They are told why the problem, issue or decision is important and they are urged to care about it. They do not lapse into simple collecting or gathering. They are not caught up in mindless activity traps. Their work remains purposeful and planful. Each time they act, it is in service to the thought process, the discovery of meaning and the development of insight.
3) Scaffolding keeps students on task
By providing a pathway or route for the learner, the scaffolded lesson is somewhat like the guard rail of a mountain highway. The learner can exercise great personal discretion within parameters but is not in danger of “off road” stranding. Each time a student or team of students is asked to move along a path, the steps are outlined extensively.
4) Scaffolding offers assessment to clarify expectations
From the very start, scaffolded lessons provide examples of quality work done by others. Right from the beginning, students are shown rubrics and standards that define excellence.
5) Scaffolding points students to worthy sources
Most educators complain that the internet suffers from a low “signal to noise ratio” – the confusing, weak and unreliable information (noise) outweighs and threatens to drown out the information most worthy of consideration. Scaffolding identifies the best sources so that students speed to signal rather than noise.
6) Scaffolding reduces uncertainty, surprise and disappointment
The operating design concept for scaffolded lessons is the “Teflon lesson” – no stick, no burn and no trouble. Lesson designers are expected to test each and every step in the lesson to see what might possibly go wrong. The idea is to eliminate distracting frustrations to the extent this is possible. The goal is to maximize learning and efficiency.
7) Scaffolding delivers efficiency
If done well, a scaffolded lesson