What Is Scaffolding In Educational Psychology?

This concept expresses how the educator must adapt to the student, according to Jerome Bruner and David Wood.


Throughout our entire stage or academic life, the role of educators is essential in favoring the acquisition of knowledge. A good educational work aims to enhance the abilities and skills of students.

One of the theories or concepts that try to explain this process is scaffolding. Throughout this article we will explain what this term used in educational psychology consists of, as well as how it can be carried out and what the collective scaffolding consists of.

What is scaffolding?

The scaffolding process finds its theoretical basis in the scaffolding theory elaborated by the psychologists and researchers David Wood and Jerome Bruner, who in turn started from the assumption, developed by the well-known psychologist Lev Vygotsky, known as the “zone of proximal development” .

In order to better understand these concepts, first of all we will review what the “zone of proximal development” consists of. This idea developed by the Russian-born psychologist tries to explain how certain characteristics of learning can facilitate people’s intellectual development and enhance their maturation.

Specifically, the “zone of proximal development” is that strip of knowledge or learning that needs to be enhanced by the help of another person. That is, the distance that exists between those skills or knowledge that the child can acquire on her own, and those for which she needs the help of another person.

Based on the basis provided by this theory, Wood and Bruner elaborate their scaffolding theory, which hypothesizes that at the moment in which the teaching / learning link or interaction develops, the resources of the teacher are inversely related to the skill level of the learner.

This means that the fewer skills or abilities the child has, the more resources the educator will need. Therefore, a correct adjustment between educator and student is essential for the correct acquisition and assimilation of information.

Where does this concept of educational psychology come from?

The concept of scaffolding turns out to be a metaphor that the authors use to explain the phenomenon by which the educator supports the student in acquiring and developing a series of strategies that enable them to acquire certain knowledge. Therefore, thanks to this function of “scaffolding” or support by the educator, the child is able to acquire knowledge, perform a task or achieve academic objectives, which he would not be able to achieve without him.

However, this scaffolding process is not only carried out in schools or academic settings, but can also take place at home, with parents being the support or base that enhances the child’s learning, or even at the social or peer level, which is known as collective scaffolding.

The authors emphasize the idea that scaffolding does not consist in solving problems or carrying out the tasks of the child, but in increasing the resources that the child possesses. We could say that it is a transfer of learning strategies, which facilitates the development of more complex knowledge structures.

Thanks to this theory, we can understand how important the role of the educator is, and how active participation, adjusted to the specific needs of the child, serves to consolidate the construction of knowledge.

How it is performed?

In order to carry out a learning process based on scaffolding theory, educators must take into account a series of key factors or conditioning factors so that it is carried out in the best possible way.

1. Preparation of information

The knowledge or information that the educator must explain or the student must be prepared in advance, in order to be able to present it at the moment in which he needs it.

2. Education as a challenge

In the same way, the level of difficulty of the information should be high enough to pose a small challenge for the child. This means that it should be placed a little above the child’s capabilities, but not too much, since otherwise it can generate a feeling of frustration in the child.

3. Evaluate the student

In order to carry out a correct scaffolding process, the information must be adjusted to the specific needs of the child; Therefore, it will be necessary to carry out an assessment or evaluation of their abilities, in order to maximize their learning capacity.

4. The educator’s efforts are inversely proportional to the child’s abilities.

As mentioned above, scaffolding is characterized in that as the child has fewer skills or learning capacities, the educator must carry out a much more intense and profound intervention.

This means that in those areas in which the student experiences difficulties, the educator must show greater support which will progressively diminish as the child’s abilities increase.

What is collective scaffolding?

At the beginning of the article it is specified that this learning process or method does not have to occur only in the school or academic context. The interaction between educator and learner can also occur within the home or even between peer groups. These cases are what we would consider as collective scaffolding.

Some studies that aim to evaluate the efficacy of this method reveal that when this process occurs between groups of equals; that is, between groups of students with qualitatively and quantitatively similar abilities, a reinforcing effect is exerted on the learning process, since a mutual consolidation of learning takes place.

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