Introduction Section 1: The Theory of ‘The Zone of Proximal Development’ and ‘Scaffolding’.

“The zone of proximal development is the distance between what children can do by themselves and the next learning that they can be helped to achieve with competent assistance” (Raymond, 2000, p.176).

Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory is widely cited by educators and teachers even today, as they formulate plans on how to get the most from students, challenging them to reach their highest potential. Vygoysky believed that social interaction leads not only to increased levels of knowledge, but that it actually changes a child’s thoughts and behaviours and hence develops problem solving. Since it is the goal of parents and teachers alike to help children become high achievers, taking a look at the work of Vygotsky and examining his conclusions seemed the best course for this assignment.

Lev Vygotsky’s concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) is what has led to the term and concept of learning through scaffolding, as introduced in 1976 by Wood, Bruner and Ross, to describe educational interaction between an adult and a child. The idea was used to explore the nature of aid provided by a teacher for children learning how to carry out a task they could not perform alone. Bruner’s ideas of spiral curriculum and scaffolding are related. Bruner (1960) stated that the curriculum should revisit the basic ideas for each subject, repeatedly building upon them until the pupil understands them fully (the spiral curriculum), rather than just to learn the facts.

A parallel has been drawn between the notion of scaffolding and ZPD theories of Vygotsky (Hobsbaum,A., Peters,S., Sylva,K., 1996).

If teachers wish to provide learning opportunities, they must assess the child’s present developmental level and estimate the ‘length’ of the ZDP. This can be achieved by using current APP grids and assessing the exact level of the pupil and what they need to achieve to reach the next level and progress further. But, the child must be able to make use of the help of others; the learner needs the ability to benefit from the give-and-take activities and conversations with others (Bruner, 1983). Vygotsky acknowledged the limits of the ZPD, but most psychological research has emphasized the importance of the role of the environment; including parents and other adults (teachers and care givers) who are ‘expert’ models and guides for a young learner.

The full development during the ZPD depends upon full social interaction and the more the child takes advantage of an adult’s assistance, the broader their ‘Zone of Proximal Development’ is.

Vygotsky defined scaffolding instruction as the “role of teachers and others in supporting the learner’s development and providing support structures to get to that next stage or level” (Raymond, 2000, p. 176).

Vygotsky refers to what children can do on their own as the ‘level of actual development’. LAD in his view, it is the level of actual development that a standard IQ test measures. Such a measure is undoubtedly important, but it is also incomplete. Two children might have the same level of actual development, in the sense of being able to solve the same number of problems on a standardised test. Given appropriate help from an adult, still, one child might be able to solve an additional dozen problems while the other child might be able to solve only two or three more. What the child can do with the help is referred to as the ‘level of potential development’ (Vasta, R., Haith, M.M., Miller, S.A., 1995).

Scaffolding can take the form of targeted questioning for a specific task or modeling a task, so that a teacher can individualise learning to meet the requirements of each individual student. However this is dependent on the teacher knowing the pupils’ previous knowledge. The scaffolds facilitate a student’s ability to build on their prior knowledge and interpret new data or information. The activities provided in scaffolding instruction are at the next learning level beyond the LAD or what the learner can do alone (Olson & Pratt, 2000). The teacher provides the scaffolds so that the learner can accomplish – with assistance – the tasks that he or she could otherwise not complete, thus helping the learner through the ZPD (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000).

Section 2: Educational examples of teaching utilising ‘ZPD’ and ‘Scaffolding’.

If we first review Assignment 2 (appendix one) we can see that the two pupils have considerably differing LAD’s. Pupil Two working at a Level 3C and Pupil One working at Level 2B. This was evident with the amount of scaffolding that each pupil required throughout the task. Pupil Two was able to complete the task with limited scaffolding, as her ‘level of actual development’ was high and through questioning to ensure that she followed a sequence she completed the task. However with Pupil One, a large amount of modelling and leading questions were required to allow her to complete the task because her LAD was at a lower level and her previous experiences of problem solving were limited so she was therefore limited to the experiences she could recall.

“Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological).” (Vygotsky, 1978).

However approximately four weeks later during my first teaching practice I finished a numeracy unit with a similar problem with a lower ability group. Pupil One who had required a large amount of scaffolding was able to approach the task as she had the experience and the tools to approach this task (appendix two) and complete it with limited support and therefore show that previous experience is vital and that if the pupil is actively listening during the process that it will assist. This is supported by Vygotsky (1978) as he believed that the internalisation of these tools led to higher thinking skills.

During assignment four (appendix four, p5-7) we can again see that Pupil One, who is read to at home, using more advanced books, but also regularly reads with a supporting adult. Helped by their parents when they first start learning to speak, young children are provided with instinctive structures to learn a language. Bed-time stories and read alouds are classic examples (Daniels, 1994). She has a higher reading age and has far more reading strategies to ensure that she is a fluent reader, but also through her social background as stated by Vygotsky (1978) she has a greater understanding of the text and the ability to discuss the text. Pupil Two however, reads mainly on her own and is therefore unable to discuss any issues within the text with a more able adult. This restricts her to only one type of strategy, therefore she is working at a whole level behind Pupil One.

In assignment three, (appendix three) we can see that this task was an open task to see how problem solving could be developed within ‘Gifted’ and ‘Talented’ literacy pupils. They were asked to create a way of showing next year’s Year 3 pupils what performance poetry is. Therefore the pupils did not have any teacher input apart from giving the seven pupils the objective and explain that they would be filmed to allow observation. By watching the video back we can see that the pupils had to explain and support each other through the task by acting as peer tutors.

“Children also learn from each other by collaborative learning, involving children who are at similar levels of competence working together in pairs or in groups and also peer tutoring, involving a more knowledgeable child providing guidance to another child in order to bring him up to a higher level of competence in a task. Research has shown that this not only benefits the child who is receiving the guidance; it also promotes learning in the child expert.” Maynard 2006.

By reviewing the results and the video evidence it is possible to see that an individual pupil would not have achieved a complete task, as they had to discuss and talk through how they were going to choose the poetry, a location and the structure of the film. Each pupil had their own input and they worked together to produce the final film.

Section 3: Implications of scaffolding on Teaching and the Teacher.

Before discussing the implications of scaffolding, we have to realise that these examples are taken from pupils either individually or in small groups and from a controlled environment, where they do not have any external social factors effecting them. In society today educators need to take into account and realise that teaching in a class of 30, there will be individuals with issues that can be beyond their control and that before teaching we have to take into account the five factors of ‘Every Child Matters’ that if a child has one of these missing they will not be able to focus and learn.

One of the primary benefits of scaffolding instruction is that it engages the learner. The learner does not passively listen to information presented but instead through teacher questioning and prompting, the learner builds on prior knowledge and forms new knowledge. In working with students who have low self-esteem and learning disabilities, it provides an opportunity to give positive feedback to the students by saying things like “…see what you have achieved so far!” This gives them more of a can do attitude, compared to a; I can’t do this attitude. This leads into another advantage of scaffolding in that if done properly, scaffolding instruction motivates the student so that they want to learn. However the significance of the ZPD is that it determines the lower and upper bounds of the zone within which instruction should be pitched. This requires an experienced teacher who understands the current educational level of every pupil. Therefore “Instruction is only useful when it moves ahead of development” (Vygotsky 1978 p. 212), “leading the child to carry out activities that force him to rise above himself” (Vygotshy 1978 p. 213). Therefore, this indicates that working with a class of thirty children means that a teacher would have to take into account thirty LAD’s and ZPD’s. The difficulties of this are self-evident but proficient teachers are able to at least maximise this understanding.

Another benefit of this type of instruction is that it can minimise the level of frustration of the learner. This is extremely important with many special needs students, who can become frustrated very easily then shut down and refuse to participate in further learning during that particular setting.

Scaffold instruction is individualised so it can benefit each learner. However, this is also the biggest disadvantage for the teacher since developing the supports and scaffolded lessons to meet the needs of each individual would be extremely time-consuming. Implementation of individualised scaffolds in a classroom with a large number of students would be challenging, therefore pupils can become grouped within their current ability and LAD that they are currently working at. However as we have previously seen, pupils working as a group can scaffold each other and therefore develop their skills collaboratively. These groups would then benefit from being mixed ability as the higher ability pupil would be able to act as the expert. This would also help to motivate all pupils on task and provide responsibility. Reciprocal scaffolding, a method first coined by Holton and Thomas, is a method that involves a group of two or more collaboratively working together, as we see in assignment three. In this situation, the group can learn from each other’s experiences and knowledge. The scaffolding is shared by each member and changes constantly as the group works on a task (Holton and Clarke, 2006). According to Vygotsky, students develop higher-level thinking skills when scaffolding occurs with an adult expert or with a peer of higher capabilities (Stone, 1998). This is completely opposed to Paiget’s theory.

Another disadvantage is that unless properly trained, a teacher may not properly implement scaffolding instruction and therefore not see the full effect. Scaffolding also requires that the teacher give up some of the control and allow the students to make errors. This may be difficult for teachers to do, as teachers are required to plan their lessons and meet specific objectives, the lesson could progress in a completely different direction and therefore not meet that specific objective. So timing of the teacher’s imput is vital, to ensure children do not go too far off track.

Although there are some drawbacks to the use of scaffolding as a teaching strategy, I believe that the positive impact it has on the development of pupils, and therefore the success of the lesson, is vital to consider when planning.


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