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What Is Vygotsky's Scaffolding?

"Vygotsky's scaffolding" refers to providing support and resources to help a child learn new skills, and then gradually removing the support as the child improves.
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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2014
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"Vygotsky's scaffolding" is a term used to describe a method of teaching that involves providing resources and support to students as they learn new concepts. As the students develop skills in those areas, the supports are gradually removed so the student can accomplish a task with no assistance. Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky developed the concept known as the zone of proximal development, or ZPD; this theory essentially stated that a difference exists between what a person can do and learn on his or her own, and what can be learned or done with the assistance of another person who is more experienced.

The term "scaffolding" was never actually used by Vygotsky, so the name for this method is actually a misnomer. It came from psychologist Jerome Bruner, who developed the scaffolding psychology based on many of the same assumptions that Vygotsky's ideas were based on. Sometimes known as instructional scaffolding, the practice involves providing resources and guidance to students learning a new task, as well as learning objects, templates, books and guides, and so on. As the student begins to understand the concept being learned more thoroughly, these guides can be removed or reduced from use so the student's cognitive skills build around that learned concept.

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Vygotsky's scaffolding ideas were so monumental at the time of their inception because the idea of directly interacting with students to teach was not necessarily a common practice. Lectures were considered the norm, and students who could not follow were left without any other instructional support. Vygotsky's ZPD dictated that a more learned person could guide a less learned person through a task by demonstrating, dictating, and monitoring rather than simply delivering information. This concept was not initially applied to education settings, but as other psychologists and professionals learned of the concept, they developed the idea further and brought it to the forefront of educational techniques.

Different types of scaffolding can be provided in a classroom, and sometimes they are broken down into two categories: soft and hard. Soft scaffolding is considered a more basic technique in which a person will directly talk with another person learning a task and critique his or her approach to problem-solving. Hard scaffolding refers to a less direct method in which the teacher will not directly instruct, but instead give clues that will allow the student to reach conclusions on his or her own. This essentially promotes a higher level of thinking.

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