The Missouri Reader Vol. 43, Issue 1 | Page 34


Debates can be fierce over how to define scaffolding, what to scaffold when seeking to help a child improve reading skill, and how much scaffolding to provide to readers. Teachers are often urged to be careful not to “over-scaffold” as if scaffolding is a dangerous instructional strategy, only to be used with caution lest the strategy lead to learned helplessness. Lack of clarity over how to define scaffolding can potentially lead to confusion in how provide scaffolding.

Discussion of scaffolding traditionally draws on the seminal work of Wood and colleagues (1976) who viewed scaffolding as “a process that enables a child or novice to solve a problem, carry out a task, or achieve a goal which would be beyond his or her unassisted efforts” (p. 90). A scaffold is a structural support, intended to be temporary and adaptive as a reader gains increased skill and independence. Scaffolding provided by a teacher should include an emphasis on the teacher taking responsibility to guide the child, diagnosis of the child’s progress to inform instructional choices, the use of a variety of supports as appropriate based on this assessment, and finally, the relinquishing of support as the child gains increasing independence (Stone, 1998).

It is helpful to think of scaffolding as a metaphor rather than as a single strategy. Under the umbrella of scaffolding we can discuss the benefits of using instructional moves such as a thinking aloud about how to use a reading strategy (Ness, 2017), strategic questioning (Beck & McKeown, 2006), symbolic and physical artifacts (Palincsar, 1998), prompts and cues (Rodgers, 2004), and modeling (Fisher et al., 2008). Scaffolding, when understood as an umbrella term, refers to a broad range of strategies that support a student toward increased skill and independence. Scaffolding is at the heart of numerous literacy approaches including reciprocal teaching (Palincsar & Brown, 1984; Oczkus, 2018), literature circles (Daniels, 2002), and the inquiry-based study of literature (Appleman & Graves, 2012).

This article focuses on teacher-student instructional moves aimed at helping the individual student to make gains in literacy skills. I focus on three attributes of scaffolding as identified by van de Pol and colleagues (2010) provide a framework for this article: (a) the transfer of responsibility from the teacher to the student, (b) the fading of support as the learner gains increasing independence, and (c) the use of scaffolding moves that are contingent upon the changing abilities of the learner. These attributes should be used in a process-oriented manner, one that is responsive to the learning, the needs and the interests of a child.

The Transfer of Responsibility

Scaffolding involves the use of strategies that provide support for a reader within a zone of proximal development (ZPD). New learning and the development of reading skill is fostered through assistance, as new concepts and skills are built on prior understandings (Bruner, 1983). This understanding of scaffolding draws on Vygotsky’s (1986) explanation of the way that developmental levels progress from actual to potential developmental levels of functioning. Tasks that a child can accomplish independently represent the child’s actual developmental level. A child’s potential development level can be seen by assessing performance in tasks that can only be accomplished with assistance. The ZPD is the difference between the actual developmental level and the child’s potential developmental level. Support should be withdrawn as a child gains increased control and independence as a reader (Stone, 1998). The following description of scaffolding by Pearson and Fielding (1991) stresses the importance of a transfer of responsibility:

In scaffolded instruction, the teacher determines the difference between what students can accomplish independently and what they can accomplish with just more expert guidance, and then designs instruction that provides just enough scaffolding for them to be able to participate in tasks that currently are beyond their reach. When scaffolded instruction operates according to plan, two things happen: first, the tasks and texts of the moment gradually come more and more under the learner’s control; and second, more difficult tasks and texts become appropriate bases for further teacher-student interaction. (p. 849)

Adjustments depend on the progress of students. Rigid limitation of instructional moves to scripted strategies can potentially preclude a teacher from using micro-scaffolding steps (cues, prompts) that enable a transfer of responsibility from the teacher to the student. A teacher should be able to make well-informed instructional choices based on observations as a student is reading a text and


The Process of Instructional Scaffolding: Practice Grounded in Research


WIlliam Kerns

The Process of Instructional Scaffolding: Practice Grounded in Research

WIlliam Kerns