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physical scaffolding of a child is eventually withdrawn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.