Scaffolding is a means of empowering students for success.
  • Scaffolding is organising the learning sequence to suit the learning ability and receptivity of the learner.
  • The scaffolding principle is based on Vygotsky's (1962) sociocultural view and supported by recent research which has shown that "learners learn best in socially and culturally co-constructed settings" (EDPROFST 226, McCaffery, August, 2011).
  • The more skilled tutors/teachers/pupils starts with what the learner already knows and then draws them into a zone of proximal development (ZPD, Fig.1.) which is just beyond their understanding.
  • The level of support is gradually lessened (or readjusted if lessened too quickly) so that the learner is able to do the task, or has the understanding, by themselves and then by phase 5 (fig.1.) they are in a position to teach others.
    Instructional Scaffolding From John McCaffery UoA 2007: Based on Vygostsky (1978) & Bruner (1985)

  • Scaffolding is a principle that links closely to the third principle, accessing prior knowledge and experience and so takes on the benefits of using that principle, too.
  • Scaffolding is a way of ensuring success as the learner can go back to any phase they need to to gain full understanding so if they cannot do it by themselves they can then return for more joint construction or go back to phase one and see how the tutor models the task/learning (Fig.1.)

  • Lessons need to be planned with enough opportunities, for the learner to have time to work through the different phases. A hard ask in an assessment driven curriculum.
  • There is a need to recognise that 'experts' are not necessarily only the teacher or tutor, but that those who have already grasped the concepts are in phase 5 and in a position to teach others. This understanding is a liberating one in a class of 32 with only one teacher where making use of experts to help scaffold tasks broadens the number of 'tutors' in the room as can be seen in Fig. 2.
Example: (Tang, 2001)
Stephen and Alan, two Chinese boys, aged 16 were working on the same computer. They were looking at a computer graphic of an eye in which the pupil expanded or dilated in response to the amount of brightness. Alan had noted down what was on the computer by constructing two sentences: (1) If the pupil smaller, then you increase the brightness. (2) Pupil bigger, then decrease the brightness. Steven noticed an error and offered this unsolicited advice to Alan.
Fig. 2. Expert student guides another learner using scaffolding techniques (Tang, 2001)

Stephen continued his explanation in Cantonese aided by constructing a ‘cause and effect’ graphic:
Cause & Effect Graphic

Here we see students working in both their heritage and second language and the expert student using their shared heritage language to successfully explain the concept of cause and effect.

  • The scaffolding principle works on relationship and that requires a safe and familiar context to be established where the learners are "convinced of the more skilled persons motivation, attitudes, values and support"(EDPROFST 226, McCaffery, August, 2011)
  • The "meeting of minds" as part of the process (McCaffery, 2010). McCaffery emphasises that it is important to add the principle of "meeting of minds" to go with the programmes based on Vygotskian ideas for co-construction scaffolding and argues for cross cultural inter-subjectivity.

McCaffery, J.J: McFall-Mc Caffery, J.A.T. (2010). ' O tatou o aga'i fea?/ 'Oku tau o ki fe?/ Where are we heading? : Pasifika languages in Aotearoa/New Zealand',
AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Scholarship, 6 (2), Special Supplement Issue Ngaahi Lea 'a e Kakai Pasifiki: Endangered Pacific
Languages and Cultures), 86-121,

Tang, G. (2001). Knowledge framework and classroom action. In B Mohan, C. Leung & C. Davison (eds). English as a second language in the mainstream
(p127-136). Harlow, England: Longman.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press