Scaffolding in Language Teaching
Scaffolding, also known as “Vygotsky scaffolding“, is a common-sense approach to teaching that you likely already intuitively utilize while teaching your online classes.
A teacher can utilize the scaffolding teaching method or an advanced student can scaffold a lesson with another student during a peer-learning activity. At its most basic, scaffolding means you assist the student, then slowly release the student through the lesson until they can independently understand and use the content of the lesson.
Scaffolding helps a building stand until the building can stay upright on its own. Likewise, instructional scaffolding is to let the student stand on their own by the end of the lesson. Just like a building’s scaffolding is temporary, a scaffolded ESL lesson removes support as students master tasks and build confidence.
The easiest way to explain scaffolding is to show some ESL lesson examples for scaffolding. One example of a simple scaffolding technique is the “I do, we do, you do” approach. This teaching strategy gradually releases more and more responsibility to your student as they move through the lesson.
How to use the “I do, we do, you do” technique in online classes
In an online class, modeling is a really important part of scaffolding a lesson. One way we model in an online ESL class is to use sentence frames. For example, we might teach a student like this:
I do: The teacher shows the sentence frames on the PowerPoint to the student and reads the sentence frame “I like _____” but “I don’t like _____”. The teacher inputs different food to complete the sentence frame. “I like ice cream” but “I don’t like cake”.
We do: The student echoes the teacher. The student practices the sentence frame “I like___” but “I don’t like ____” while seeing the sentence frame and using the teacher’s examples.
You do: Without the sentence frame on the slide, the student uses the sentence frame to discuss other foods they like or do not like. The student uses previously learned vocabulary. The student uses sentence frames for new topics.
What is the theory behind Scaffolding?
The theoretical base of scaffolding can be found in Vygotsky’s theory, especially in Vygotsky’s notions of the zone of proximal development (ZPD).
Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development
Vygotsky created the concept of the zone of proximal development, abbreviated to ZPD. In it, He argued that there was no ideal age for learning. Instead, Vygotsky introduced ideal stages for learning. According to Vygotsky, students benefit directly from the social interactions in class, and ideally, reach their learning potential with the help of their teacher. Scaffolding is a way to stretch the student and grow their skills within their zone of proximal development.
Vygotsky‘s educational theories may seem intuitive, but it actually contradicted the prominent educational research at the time. Other educational researchers of the time argued that there were certain ages that were ideal for learning, but Vygotsky argued that there was no perfect age for learning, just zones students travel through on their educational journey.
Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky 1896-1934
Vygotsky’s educational theories may seem intuitive, but it actually contradicted the prominent educational research at the time. Other educational researchers of the time argued that there were certain ages that were ideal for learning, but Vygotsky argued that there was no perfect age for learning, just zones students travel through on their educational journey.
What is the Zone of Proximal Development?
The zone of proximal development as the difference between the current level of cognitive development and the potential level of cognitive development.
ZPD consists of two important components: the student’s potential development and the role of interaction with others. Learning occurs in the zone of proximal development after the identification of current knowledge. The potential development is simply what the student is capable of learning. Source
Scaffolding Lesson Format in ESL Class
Using the ZPD and scaffolding in ESL lesson plans means learners complete small, attainable steps as they grow their skills and become independent.
Beginning of a Scaffolding Lesson:
“I do”: During a scaffolded lesson, the ESL teacher starts by offering close guidance. This is the “I do” portion of the lesson. In an online class, the ESEL teacher can use demonstrations, TPR modeling, and explicit instructions like word lists, sentence frames, or grammar parsing trees.
Middle of a Scaffolding Lesson:
“We do”: Then, the ESL teacher can assign more progressively difficult tasks as the student gains more knowledge and comes closer to reaching their potential level of cognitive development.
End of a Scaffolded Lesson:
“You do”: By the end of the lesson, students can use the new task and produce content themselves. In a PPP lesson format, this would be the “production” stage, when the student can produce their own ideas with the material they learned. Within a Bloomberg Taxonomy, this would be the highest order thinking skill of “creation”. But for an online class, a successful end of a 30-minute class, for example, is to have the student use the new sentence structures or grammatical structure or vocabulary confidently and independently.
The ESL lesson plan module from TEFL Full Circle does a great job teaching ESL instructors. how to format their lesson plans using scaffolding and the PPP method: Presentation, Practice, Production.
Why Scaffold ESL Lessons
- Breaking the learning objectives into very small pieces helps the student manage the content.
- Students feel more confident and less overwhelmed when presented with smaller expectations.
- When a student can succeed in each small step, they build independence.
Scaffolding Up and Down
Scaffolding up or down is a way to respond effectively to your student. ESL teachers can scaffold tasks up to help students who have higher skills increase their reading independence, for example. Or, ESL teachers can scaffold tasks down for the student who is struggling and needs extra support.
Scaffolding Up with ESL Students
Scaffolding up will help those students who have higher skills increase their independence in reading. These students can complete more activities on their own. To help these learners stay focused and improve their English skills, they can ask and answer the questions on a slide. They can explain the vocabulary word. They can create their own TPR and bring their own props to the class to demonstrate an understanding of a word. They can also use sentence frames independently.
Examples of Scaffolding Up During an ESL Lseson
- Scaffolding up
- The student can read the text independently including the narration box.
- Questions can be read and answered by the student.
- The student can explain the vocabulary using their own words.
- The student can create his own TPR to help them remember the vocabulary outside the classroom.
- Sentence frames can be used independently.
- Sentence frames can be used to discuss other topics.
Scaffold Down with ESL Students
Teachers can scaffold a skill or activity down for the student who is struggling and needs extra support. To help the student learn to complete a task on their own you can utilize the “I do, we do, you do” approach can help a student gradually understand how to complete an activity or answer a question. You can use Total Physical Response, a technique developed by James J. Asher to help a student remember a vocabulary word or idea. If a student struggles in reading a passage, you can read the passage to them, then support the student while they read it, and then encourage them to read it independently. You can also give the student a sentence frame to help them use correct grammar and sentence structure to answer questions.
Examples of Scaffolding Down During an ESL Lesson
- Modeling the activity or sentence for the student gives the confidence to try on their own.
- The “I do, we do, you do” model can help the student succeed in completing the activity independently.
- TPR and/or props can help the student remember a word or idea while reading and speaking.
- The student can listen to the text first to support reading.
Bottom Line: Scaffolding, also known as “Vygotsky scaffolding”, is a common-sense approach to teaching that you likely already intuitively utilize: you aid the student to grow increasingly independent as the lesson progresses.
Teaching Strategy: I Do, We Do, You Do. (2013, October 7). Retrieved October 12, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E08qf20yGv8
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