Over-Scaffolding

“The idea of scaffolding has historical roots in psychology and social-learning theory, which describe scaffolding as structures, tools, and assistance from more knowledgeable others that allow learners to engage in practices beyond their independent capacity.”  
     While I’m not sure where exactly I read the above quote, I have since found references to both Anghileri, 2006 and Holton & Clark, 2006, in relation to scaffolding and mathematical tasks. I wrote it down awhile ago because it rang true in my work and I’m still reflecting on it.
     How often are we scaffolding tasks that are beyond students capacity? In my experience, I find that teachers tend to over-scaffold with the best intentions. Teachers don’t want students to fail and they don’t want to be judged by students’ lack of achievement. So they build scaffolds for ALL students into all lessons. While this comes from a good place, the reality is that in these cases students rarely have time to reach their independent capacity. Unfortunately, what this does is create learned helplessness in our students. Because they are not given enough opportunities to persevere, much less fail and get back up, over-scaffolded students crumble at the sign of the slightest challenge.
     If we believe in the premise of a growth mindset, where we are all capable of increasing our intelligence and skill set with time, effort, practice, and hard work, do we need all tasks to be scaffolded?
     How does scaffolding fit in with differentiation? If our lessons are differentiated to meet a wide range of students’ needs, are scaffolds necessary? If we focus more on small group instruction, are scaffolds built into the differentiated instruction?
     I don’t have the answers to all of these questions, but I love having conversations with my smart colleagues about this topic. Scaffolds are an important instructional tool to have in our repertoire. I look forward to continuing to rethink how and when we scaffold instruction and tasks for individual students.
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About Amy's Reflections

Director of Educational Services in Southern CA, taking time to reflect on leadership and learning
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5 Responses to Over-Scaffolding

  1. Pingback: Over-Scaffolding | The Musings Of An Educator

  2. Rummages&Ramblings says:

    Great piece and timely, I was just discussing this with a group of educators. To me it boils down to our need as teachers to be helpful, we don’t want to see students struggle. But productive struggle is essential for learning to occur. With the educators I work with I push the idea of being less helpful and the backwards scaffold, waiting to see the area each student needs support in and then applying the right amount of support to get them to the next step. A key for me is having teachers plan these interactions and not just let them happen by happy accident.

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