Scaffolding and Intentional Teaching in Early Literacy Education

Scaffolding is a term metaphorically used to describe the approaches that adults or peers apply to support children in the learning process (Zurex, Torquati & Acar, 2014). Van de Pol, Mercer, and Volman (2019) defines scaffolding as a temporary support type that educators adopt to enhance a child’s understanding. In educational context, teachers adopt scaffolding to offer necessary support in a way that is proper and timed to address the needs of children.

The instructor helps learners to acquire the knowledge or skill that will help them solve some (math) problems, by guiding them to gradually increase their knowledge in that area. The assistance offered through scaffolding helps a child, who is considered a novice, to solve problems and complete tasks to achieve goals that would, however, be impossible without the support (van de pol et al., 2019).

Zurex et al. (2014) argued that the effectiveness of scaffolding in pre-school years is evident. In these early literacy education years, scaffolding enables educators to create a hierarchical program that begins by guiding learners to solve simple (low order) problems and build skills that enable them deal with more complex (higher order) topics later on. Teachers need intentionality and a given level of preparation to effectively apply scaffolding strategies.

Importance of Scaffolding in Children’s Language and Literacy Development

Scaffolding encourages teachers to have adequate understanding of each learner’s needs and strengths in order to adjust the technique, and effectively utilise the pedagogical strategies within scaffolding. According to van de Pol et al. (2019), scaffolding recognizes the prior knowledge of a child and uses it to select the appropriate support that a teacher should provide to learners. In this way, the strategy may increase the amount of content that learners take up from the teacher. The new information, thus, gets integrated into the existing knowledge schemes of the child. This practice also enables the teacher to identify the support level that a learner should receive.

Generally, a learner will require high-level support when the teacher introduces a new skill or concept. Examples of these high-support approaches include provision of hints, eliciting, and co-participation (Zurex et al., 2014). Strategies that involve low-support should only be considered when the learner shows maturation and is capable of tackling higher-order tasks, as these offer lesser assistance. In both high- and low-support methods, the teacher allows the children to stablish proper links between the skills and knowledge they have mastered so as to progressively complete tasks that appear more sophisticated. With this, the teacher adjusts the scaffolding strategies based on the capacity of the learner to construct knowledge and skills.

Moreover, scaffolding improves social and cognitive development of the young learners. Through scaffolding, teachers play critical role in moulding the children’s conceptual understanding of processes and phenomena in natural environment during games and by guiding them through learning materials (Zurex et al., 2014). These experiences ignite curiosity thereby encouraging the young children to explore and learn. When the outdoor play space includes gardens, for instance, children get to explore and inspect soil, plant and animal life cycles, and insects.

Children that take part in this activity will most likely observe the organisms and ask questions. Teachers can take this opportunity to scaffold the process to improve the children’s understanding of such natural phenomena. Drawing the children’s attention to particular environmental features during the outdoor activities, offering feedback or hints, and providing needed assistance boost children’s understanding of their environment.

Scaffolding also enables teachers to manage cooperative learning. Activities in this strategy requires the teacher to provide learning materials, evaluate competences, create learning objectives for every child and ensure attainment of the same, and apply inferential questioning. Whatever the teacher decides to undertake, the goal of scaffolding is only met when the needs of learners become the teacher’s priority (Van de Pol et al., 2015).

Guidance that a teacher provides to a given learner directly depends on the nature of the task at hand, and the type of responses the child offers. As such, scaffolding approaches differ with situations (Van de Pol, Volman, & Beishuizen, 2010). None of its techniques apply to all situations in a similar way. By prompting a verbal exchange with the children, the teacher gets an opportunity to draw the young learners’ attention to relevant content.

Activities such as engaging children in counting games also help the teacher to discover the level of support that given child requires. Such support enhances the achievement of children compared to instances where they are left to learn by themselves. Martin, Dornfeld Tissenbaum, Gnesdilow, and Puntambekar (2019) indicated that the process of diagnosing a child’s understanding should be continuous and the provided guidance should be responsive enough to help children carry on after the handover.

Again, scaffolding acknowledges the vital role of peer interactions in the learning environment. Other than teachers, children gain knowledge and skills from their peers. When children interact with each other in the pre-school years, their social behaviours develop. In peer-supported learning a child learns concepts, behaviours, and gains information from a different child. Scaffolding encourages teachers to create room for peer collaboration. The process also shows the acknowledgement of the role of interaction in learning activities (Zurex et al., 2014; van de Pol et al., 2019; Mahan, 2022).

The role of the teacher in this area is to provide the emotional and social directions that make the context conducive for learning. Guidance from the teacher is effective if it highlights the essential life skills and aims to promote harmonious relationships, as this maximises the attention children place of the learning process. However, the level of provided support must be enough (Van de Pol et al., 2015). If the child feels that the assistance from the teacher is excess, superficial information processing takes place because the child lacks the chance to actively process the content. Consequently, the child fails to actively establish connections between the new information and existing content. On the other hand, if support level is too low, deep process becomes impossible.

Scaffolding also improves uptake of new knowledge. The goal of scaffolding is to get teachers or more capable peers to help children gain new knowledge through gradual transfer of information from the teacher or peers to a learner (Mahan, 2022). Additionally, this strategy emphasises the need for the teacher to determine the ability of learners to apply and integrate new knowledge into ongoing activities. Van de Pol et al. (2019) explained that when students take up instructional content from the teacher, their learning improves.

The author added that this impressive achievement is possible through learners’ interactions. In other words, once a teacher stimulates a young child to create relational reasoning, the other children within his or her group follow through. The teacher may not even need to provide additional support because the collaboration among the young learners accelerates uptake of the instructions. Again, the uptake appears most effective if scaffolding is deployed at appropriate time or when the child needs such support the most.

Lastly, the ability of a child to solve tasks is prioritized in scaffolding. Primary objective of scaffolding is to enable a child complete given learning activities, hence the process never stops until a child is capable of handling that particular task. In the early learning settings, teachers repeat the children’s answers in a language that is academically acceptable, and ask the children to elaborate some answers (Mahan, 2022). This approach is mostly applied in math classrooms.  

Again, teachers should use display questions (where the teacher knows the answers) as well as referential questions (to which a teacher does not know the answer) in classrooms. The referential questions have more positive impact on language learning because students are prompted to create longer sentences to elaborate their answers. Unlike display questions, referential questions provide learners of English as a second language the chance to speak and use this language in a creative manner.

Relationship between Theoretical Perspective and My Pedagogy, with a Focus on Early Literacy

Selected theoretical perspectives for this section are the socio-cultural theory by Vygosky and Bruner’s scaffolding theory.

Socio-cultural theory

Vygosky’s socio-cultural theory states that learning happens through interaction with others then it is internalised (van de pol et al., 2019). Such learning should be guided by more knowledgeable persons such as the teacher. Vygosky’s zone of proximal development (ZPD) relates to the gap between a learner’s independent capability and what such learner only achieves through guidance from someone with more knowledge. According to Vygotsky, scaffolding best effectiveness is revealed in the ZPD. He argued that the support should equal the child’s skills or be above the knowledge a child already possesses (Zurex et al., 2014).

A child must not be able to master this form of knowledge on his or her own. Van de Pol et al. (2010) in socio-cultural theory, scaffolding identifies the roles played by adults when solving problems alongside children. The theory emphasises the role of social context in initiating the learning process. As Shabani, K., Khatib, M., & Ebadi, S. (2010) pointed out, the cultural materials in a learning context include the items in use there like tables, chairs, pens, or books; and more sophisticated components like traditions, arts, science, language, and beliefs.

One of the vital step in adopting scaffolding based on socio-cultural theory is to understand the ZPD of every child. I focus adequate attention on discovering the current level of knowledge of each student. This helps me to teach the children in their ZPD and offer relevant scaffolding assistance. Before each lesson, I give the children a short quiz or engage them in introductory discussion on topics that allow me ask questions to recognise what they already know. If I find that the children’s ZPDs vary greatly, I place them into groups then go around to offer assistance as they continue their discussions.

Group work helps the children to learn from one another and work collectively on various tasks. To improve the effectiveness of the groups, I mix children with different levels of learning and skills. In all my scaffolding practices, I do my best to avoid giving too much help. The strategies above are very crucial in avoiding the temptation to jump into instructional content and begin providing advice, as I get the chance to let every child work of his or her own and in groups before offering guidance.

Scaffolding Theory by Bruner

Bruner’s scaffolding theory refers to adult and learners’ interactional relationship that enables a child to find solutions to problems, in a way that is better than what they get without assistance (Mahan, 2022). Martin et al. (2019) illustrates the range of understanding within which intentional support balances the problems for a child while also eliminating frustration or boredom.

Scaffolding operates under the original assumption that one knowledgeable individual (teacher or parent) can assist a learner by providing the exact help a child needs to move forward (Wood, Bruner & Ross, 1976). In accordance with this theoretical perspective, I understand that my students need my assistance every time I introduce a new concept in class. For this reason, I monitor their progress as they develop independence in their thinking while also acquiring new knowledge and skills to plan how to gradually minimise the amount of support offered and dismantle it later on.

Again, I continually ensure that the children have opportunities for constantly learning new concepts. If I discover that students feel that particular tasks are too complex, I employ high-level and focused support to ensure they master the relevant skills and solve those problems. Although the process is often complicated, I do my best to identify the most appropriate scaffolding approaches for different situations. Whenever necessary, I seek help from teaching assistants and colleagues with more knowledge on working with young children in the classroom.

I also acknowledge the fundamental role of social interaction in gaining of new knowledge (Wood et al., 1976). When I realise that children have acquired confidence and show competence in various areas, I place them into discussion groups. Main goal of this practice is to encourage knowledge sharing, and further learning. More importantly, I follow the performance of children closely to detect when they commence independent learning. A child that shows such progress is mature enough in the given area and deserves to be freed from scaffolding.