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Features of early years pedagogies: Scaffolding

Scaffolding is a supportive framework that lets students feel comfortable taking the next step in their learning. Teachers gradually release responsibility to the child so that ‘the expert fades from the learning situation as the novice masters the necessary skills within meaningful activities’ (Callison, 2001, p. 2).

Teachers support students by moving back and forth between high, medium and low levels of scaffolding, enabling students to master higher levels of thinking.

Scaffolding has its roots in Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) — ‘the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers’ (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86).

When learners are scaffolded they work at a level a little higher than their last mastery, which maximises their learning potential and allows for the construction of new cognitive abilities.

The following table identifies teacher and student actions for scaffolding.

High-level scaffolding

The teacher:

  • explicitly models skills (e.g. language, thinking).

The student:

  • observes the teacher explicitly modelling the skill.
Medium-level scaffolding

The teacher:

  • creates a safe learning environment in which all students feel safe to take learning risks in a slow and gradual way
  • encourages collaboration, joint interaction and problem solving
  • employs open-ended questioning, prompting, restating to encourage students to take on more responsibility in their learning and to guide the learning
  • promotes self-regulation to encourage students to recognise his/her abilities.

The student:

  • gradually takes on more responsibility in their learning in regards to a specific task
  • practises the skill under teacher guidance/support or in collaboration with peers
  • is supported by the teacher to work at a higher level than their last level of mastery
  • is supported through various learning experiences.
Low-level scaffolding

The teacher:

  • fosters the student's autonomy as well as their independent mastery of skills
  • fades from the learning situation.

The student:

  • feels confident to independently take risks in their learning
  • applies new skills to other contexts.

Annette Woods
Associate Professor, Queensland University of Technology

The notion of scaffolding is something that early childhood teachers know a lot about. They know that it’s part of their job to be there to support as children are learning new skills and new understandings.

But it’s also important for us as early childhood teachers to know just when to apply the appropriate type of support and scaffolding. So when to use a language, when to actually intervene and model, and when to be engaged in quite explicit front-loading.

By this I mean that we might in fact actually provide all sorts of ways of engaging with a context, all sorts of new learning, ready for children to take that forward into their own explorations as they enquire and engage in problem-solving in order to learn new things.

Students (together)

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10.

Rae Welch
Prep Teacher, Jamboree Heights State School

I want to make sure I get my thinking right because these numbers are getting a bit bigger. So because they’re getting bigger I sometimes get a bit confused. So let me go back. I’m going to start again and check and see how I’m going. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. The next number I think is eight. Yep. Can you see how when I get a bit stuck I just go back and start counting again? That helps me think about the sequence and the order of the numbers.

After we’d done the whole class part of the lesson I did split the children into separate groups and they were differentiated groups. So I did have my lower-level learners, to an average group, through to my top end, my high-flying kids. So each activity was targeted to that level of learners.

My lower level children, I worked with them, I took them outside, recognising that those kids had had a fair bit of time sitting on the carpet. They’re the ones in particular that needed to be out and Scaffolding Scaffolding Queensland Curriculum & Assessment Authority October 2017 Page 2 of 2 moving. So we were outside, we were moving about. I was able to help them to sequence numbers through to 20, while they were having the opportunity to actually get a bit physical as well.

Student 1


Student 2

We need 17. Hey should we do it the other way so you move the 20 here and then it goes that way?

Student 1

No. Last one.

Student 2

Thank you. There, done.

Rae Welch

The children working on the carpet were my higher-flying children who I know can sequence numbers to 20. They would’ve been able to jump through the hoops without too much thought. So I wanted to see how much further they could take this. Scaffolding’s really important in the early years. It helps to … again it’s developing the children’s confidence. It’s giving them step by step the gradual release to them being able to do it themselves.

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