What is scaffolding?
The metaphor used to capture the way in which a teacher provides particular kinds of support within the interactions taking place between teacher and student is that of ‘scaffolding’.
The scaffolding can be provided through:
- programming and planning over the longer-term period
- shorter-term planning of the steps and sequencing of activities and tasks
- the crucial interactions between teacher and students as teachers notice and respond to opportunities to support students to see, understand and do something new and emerging.
Effective classrooms have been shown to have two broad levels of scaffolding operating: macro-level and micro-level scaffolding (Hammond 2001).
Macro-level scaffolding operates at the level of a program or unit of teaching and learning. It requires that teachers have:
- clearly established curriculum goals
- an understanding of the knowledge, skills and language demands of these goals
- a knowledge of the students and of their current abilities and understandings and what they may be able to contribute to the learning situation
- an ability to plan and carefully sequence tasks designed to develop the knowledge, skills and language required to achieve the goal.
Micro-level scaffolding occurs within the broader macro-scaffold and refers to support provided by the teacher at the task level. This commonly occurs through teacher–student interaction.
Why is this important?
The potential of these interactions to move students to new levels of language use and understanding are optimised when the teacher has been able to establish a strong macro-scaffold. Having a clear goal in mind and an understanding of the language demands of that goal enable the teacher to recognise and seize opportunities in these interactions.
While both levels of scaffolding are important and cannot be omitted, the main role of the macro-level scaffold is to create opportunities for and maximise the potential of the micro-level interactions.
Want to learn more about effective ways to scaffold students? If you are an ESL teacher, you might be interested in our Teaching ESL Students in Mainstream Classrooms Tutor Training. For teachers in all curriculum areas, check out our Literacy for Learning or How Language Works Tutor Training.