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The Concept of Scaffolding in Primary English Teaching

Hausarbeit 2008 22 Seiten


Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Teaching English in Primary School

2. The Metaphor of Scaffolding
2.1 The Zone of Proximal Development by Lev Vygotsky
2.2 Bruner
2.3 Scaffolding in School

3. Practical Examination Concerning the Scaffolding in a Primary Class
3.1 The Task
3.2 Demands of the Task
3.3 Aims

4. Results of the Task

5. Conclusion: Scaffolding the Speaking of English

6. Literature

a. Visual Representation of the ZPD
b. Forms of Scaffolding
c. Lessonplan
d. Worksheet
e. Transcript

1. Introduction: Teaching English in Primary School

In German primary schools English as a subject has only been taught since about five years. Only since this year (2008) English in grade three and four has become a subject of the same value as the other subjects. As the students in grade three and four are younger than the students in grade five where English lessons started traditionally in the past, teachers have to adjust to the special conditions of the younger children. Those need more support and guidance in their learning process than older children. From next year on the subject English will be taught already in grade one, to six and seven year old children. Those need even more support by the teacher. Because of the special learning conditions of young children teachers cannot transfer the teaching methods of secondary school English teach­ing. But how can the teacher give effective support to English learning children especially in primary English class?

This question shall be examined in this paper and perhaps can be answered at the end of it. It is of current interest because teachers have to adjust to the new learning circumstances. Especially the topic of supporting the students in their learning process is relevant because the younger the children are, the more help do they need from more knowledgeable people.

Jerome Bruner called this form of support scaffolding and his ideas are based on the theory of the Zone of Proximal Development by Lev Vygotsky. These two theories will be discussed at first in the following. Then there will be described some general aspects of the notion of scaffolding in the primary English class, which show for example methods of scaffolding.

Afterwards there will be a practical part that looks at a specific task tested in school and a critical reflection of the task that was carried out. These considerations may or may not verify the discussed theoretical background.

2. The Metaphor of Scaffolding

The term scaffolding in the context of learning is of course a metaphorical term. Scaffolds are found on building sites and “can be used to work high above the ground” (Rasmussen 2001, p. 569). A scaffold is a temporary structure that supports workers in doing jobs that would otherwise be impossible for them. They can reach areas that they could not access on their own. Structure is here the keyword. As builders do need support to reach a goal, students in school may need support in their learning process. “Such support must be given using a scaffold on which the teacher can stand at a higher level than the students” (Rasmussen 2001, p. 569). This scaffold must be clearly structured so that the students can benefit from it. But as for the builders working at a building, the scaffold must be secondary and the building or the learning primary. “Just as scaffolds help workers to complete difficult jobs, instructional scaffolding helps children to build solid understandings of challenging academic topics.” (Lange 2002)

So “in its metaphorical sense, scaffolding should be viewed as a tool for use by adults or teachers in their work with students” (Rasmussen 2001, p. 569). One who was concerned with the learning process of children and the question what they can learn with and without the support of others, was Lev Vygotsky.

2.1 The Zone of Proximal Development by Lev Vygotsky

Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) was a Russian psychologist who was interested in the human consciousness and human thinking. He was particularly concerned with the developmental psychology. Just like Jean Piaget he considered that children actively construct knowledge for themselves and so participate in the learning process. But beyond it the social environment, that means the influence of peers, teachers or adults, also plays an important role in learning and development. (c.f. Pinter 2006, p.10) He says that the child is an active learner in a world full of other people. Vygotsky noticed that children can achieve more with help of others than without. “Adults mediate the world for children and make it accessible to them” (Cameron 2001, p.6). A child can do much more with the help of another person than he[1] can do on his own. “[Vygotsky] was interested to explore what [exactly] individual children were capable of achieving with the help and support of a more knowledgeable partner.” (Pinter 2006, p.10)

In this context he developed the concept of the Zone of Proximal Development or ZPD. What the child can achieve without help is his current knowledge. In contrast to that there is the potential knowledge which describes what the child can achieve with the help of an adult or a peer. The difference between the current knowledge and the potential knowledge is described by the ZPD. The figure in appendix a. shows a visual representation of the ZPD.

If this concept of the ZPD is now transferred into school, the teacher is the expert, the more knowledgeable partner of the children, who offers support to the learners doing a task. According to Vygotsky there are three different categories of tasks. In the first category one finds those tasks that the students can perform independently without help. The second category describes tasks that the students cannot perform even with the help of others. The third category stands for tasks that a student can only perform if he gets help. The state of the ZPD is part of the last category and it is the ideal cognitive state for learning. In the first and second category there is no learning process either because the child knows already how to carry out the task or because he does not complete the task. Only in a task of the third category learning proceeds, because within the ZPD a cognitive change takes place and can be observed. Thus “teaching may be viewed as assisting performance through the Zone of Proximal Development” (Antón 1999, p.304). The teacher has to close the gap between what the learner can do on his own and the requirements of the given task.

There is only one problem that occurs for the teaching in school. It is easy for parents at home to recognize what the child is able to achieve and where he needs help, that means where the ZPD of their child lies. In class there are twenty and more ZPDs, because every child has a different tempo of development and so everybody has a different ZPD at different points in time. So it is difficult for the teacher to make out the different ZPDs of the different pupils and thus to give to every child the individual and right support.

When learning takes place in this form with the concept of the ZPD, the teacher provides a scaffold for the learners. “Teachers or peers supply students with the tools they need in order to learn, and then slowly withdraw assistance as students are able to do more on their own.” (Jacobs 2001, p.125) The first who introduced the term scaffolding was the American psychologist Jerome Bruner.

2.2 Bruner

Jerome Bruner used the metaphor of a scaffold to describe the act when “an adult or ‘expert’ helps somebody who is less adult or less expert” (Wood et al. 1976, p.89). His first considerations in this context were aimed at the early childhood and the cognitive development of young children. Only later the term was associated with the ZPD and with teaching in school.

Bruner describes the usual tutoring situation as one “in which one member ‘knows the answer’ and the other does not” (Wood et al. 1976, p.89). At first the learner is alone and unassisted. He can learn only in a social context, for example with parents, through modelling and imitating. In Bruner’s theory the tutor plays a major role. His function is the “’scaffolding’ process that enables a child or novice to solve a problem, carry out a task or achieve a goal which would be beyond his unassisted efforts” (Wood et al. 1976, p.90). “For Bruner, language is the most important tool for cognitive growth” (Cameron 2001, p.8) and so the tutor is supposed to always instruct verbally first, if possible, before intervening more directly. He has to keep the goal of a task before the learner’s eyes and to motivate them. “Well executed scaffolding begins by luring the child into actions that produce recognizable-for-him solutions.” (Wood et al. 1976, p.96) The help that is provided for the learner is characterized by six scaffolding functions: recruitment, reduction in degrees of freedom, direction maintenance, marking critical features, frustration control and demonstration.

Recruitment is the tutor’s first task and means that he has to get the learners interest in the task or problem.


[1] To make the reading more comfortable, there will be used the male form throughout in this paper. Of course, women and girls are meant as well as men and boys.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
836 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Bergische Universität Wuppertal
Englischunterricht Scaffolding Didaktik Grundschule



Titel: The Concept of Scaffolding in Primary English Teaching