Scaffolding is the support given to students before students can handle a learning task independently. It comes from Vygotsky’s (1978)’s concept of an expert helping a less experienced novice to accomplish certain tasks beyond the novice’s independent efforts. In the process of learning, scaffolding is gradually added and modified to help students accomplish the tasks and eventually taken away when students are ready to handle the tasks independently. Scaffolding does not change the nature or the difficulty of the tasks, but will reduce the learning burden for students as they engage in unfamiliar and challenging tasks. With scaffolding, a daunting task will become more manageable.

Types of scaffolding activities

Scaffolding can take different shapes, depending on the targeted learning tasks. Usually, dialogues and preparatory writing activities can be used as scaffolding activities. Dialogues with the peers and the instructor can facilitate the development of ideas for writing and allow student writers to articulate ideas before the actual writing, and exploratory writing activities, such as free writing on the topic and writing outlines will also offer opportunities for students to explore more on the topic, gradually develop ideas for writing, and make a plan before they write.

An example of scaffolding a writing task

Task: Write a term paper on the topic of extreme condition exploration.


As can be seen from this example, students are not given the daunting task of a long term paper at the beginning. Instead, the instructor provides levels of scaffolding at different stages to facilitate the writing of the final paper. Eventually, students will be able to finish the paper on their own, which they might not have been able to do earlier in the process.
Vygotsky, L.S. (1978) Mind in Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard.