“The teacher’s primary function, apart from promoting the kind of classroom dynamic conducive to a dialogic and emergent pedagogy, is to optimize language learning affordances, by directing attention to features of the emergent language; learning can be mediated through talk, especially talk that is shaped and supported (i.e. scaffolded) by the teacher. “
~ Luke Meddings & Scott Thornbury, Teaching Unplugged, Delta Teacher Development Series, 2009.
The term “scaffolding” was first used refering to learning by a cognitive psychologist, Jerome Bruner, in the 50’s. He used it to describe how children learn and develop language with the help of their parents. How parents naturally help children find the ways to communicate orally when they’re struggling with it. Scaffolding is a temporary arrangement – the scaffold is there only until the child is able to successfully communicate what he/she wanted on his/her own.
When we bring the concept to the classroom, scaffolding means that teachers should not “spoon-feed” their students, but rather give them just what is necessary for the student to reach the desired communication (by the student) effectively, on his/her own. The learner has to be in charge and responsible for his/her own learning – not only about what to learn (the emergent learning), or the how to do it, but for the learning process itself. We’re way past the time of teachers as almighty possessors of all knowledge who kindly give the knowledge to their students. As I mentioned in a previous post, teaches these days are more of facilitators, guides in the learner’s path to assimilating a new language (or at least we should be).
When I think about the role of teachers today I see us as the ones who have a map in our hands, a map to get to effectively using English (in my case) to communicate. Of course the way there has many possible stops (functions), and a wide choice of roads to get to the same place. The teacher is the one who chooses what he believes is the best road for each student (or group of students). Some routes are more fun, some are faster than others; just as some students are in a hurry to get to their final destination and others prefer to take their time and enjoy the view. The teacher then points the student in the right direction for the road, show the road, and may even give a few steps along the learner on the road chosen but ultimately lets him/her go on alone – after he sees the path. The teacher’s job then is to keep an eye (from a distance) on the learner, just to make sure he/she doesn’t get lost along the way, and to stay at an arm’s length for when the learner wants to go somewhere else.
So, I think I understand scaffolding language learning. But how do I do it? There are many ways.
- Doing an activity with a text that has the desired language in it and work with it in a way the student notices it, by asking questions that will direct the student there.
Doing some vocabulary work prior to an activity where the learners will most likely need that vocabulary to properly express themselves.
- Providing models of intended language before expecting students to do it (sometimes without actually teliing them that ).
- Giving learners positive feedback at every new step they take (self-confidence is a must for real learning).
I could go on and on. And maybe I got it all wrong, and that’s not what scaffolding is about. And I would love to hear how you scaffold! :-)
For more great posts on the Dogme Blog Challenge #3, you should read:
Mike Harrison’s “How do you scaffold?”
David Warr’s “For those who know…”
Nick Jaworski’s “Dogme in the mind of a Teacher”
Henrick Oprea’s “Scaffolding”
Sabrina de Vita’s “Dogme with Young Learners”