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Scaffolding

Imagine an infant who wants to stand but has not learn to balance herself well enough to stand unaided. To give the child practice developing the muscle coordination needed to stand and to strengthen appropriate muscle groups, the parent holds the child in a standing position. First, the child needs help in bearing all of her weight. Later, the parent does not need to apply a vertical force, but instead keeps the child only from falling to the side. These two aides to learning to stand are both forms of scaffolding. Scaffolding in a building is temporary help to keep the structure standing. The physical scaffolding of a child is eventually withdrawn as learning occurs and the child learns greater independence.

Teachers scaffold student performance all of the time. Asking a timely question -- Do you remember the last time you argued with your brother? -- can scaffold making connections that would otherwise be missed. Using dolls to play out conflicts can scaffold thinking more and elaborating upon issues with siblings. Keeping students aware of the time left to finish work scaffolds the learning of time management skills -- a key problem in working with middle-school designers.

One key idea behind scaffold is that whatever aid is giving to improve performance is temporary, and that good teaching involves making good estimates of when scaffolding is needed, and when to start to withdraw it, and how fast, for different learners.

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