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What Is Bruner's Scaffolding Theory?

By E. Reeder
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Bruner’s scaffolding theory is that children need support and active help from their teachers and parents if they are going to become independent learners as they mature. According to Bruner’s scaffolding theory, children are somewhat dependent on those who have more knowledge or competency than they do in certain areas, such as reading or calculating square roots, when they begin learning. As students gain more independence and confidence, the help from teachers and parents decreases until the students are independent learners, much as scaffolding used to support construction workers and their materials is removed as a building project nears completion.

In an elementary school classroom, for example, Bruner’s scaffolding theory can be implemented as children learn how to read. At first, the teacher might do most or all of the reading aloud to students, pronouncing all words for them, defining unfamiliar vocabulary words, and explaining the meaning of the text. After the students have had the teacher to model effective reading for them for a while, they will begin to be assigned more independent reading, reading aloud in small groups as they tackle the words and meanings but still ask questions. As they gain more independence, students will take more of the responsibility for learning how to read, such as responding to the text verbally and in writing, seeking out the meaning of new vocabulary words, reading fluently, and gaining meaning from text by using higher-level thinking strategies. The more that students practice reading and become confident and proficient at it, the less they will depend on help from their teachers.

The paradigm or idea behind Bruner’s scaffolding theory can be used across all age and grade levels and across all subject areas. In a high school math course, for example, students might begin to learn how to solve quadratic equations or to prove a geometric formula by listening to their teacher describe how to do it as she works examples for them. They might then be asked to work independently or in groups to solve some of these problems as their teacher circulates, helps them and then goes over the answers with the entire class to check for accuracy. Once students have gained more independence and competency in these mathematical concepts, they might work in groups where they teach and guide one another or present problems and solutions to their class without help from their instructor.

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Discussion Comments
By anon349058 — On Sep 22, 2013

The challenge is when the parents won't play their part. What will be a sad scenario is when a society will be illiterate.

By sweetPeas — On Aug 05, 2011

I like the Jerome Bruner scaffolding theory for the most part. I like the idea of students having some knowledge provided by the teacher.

In addition to this method, I would choose to have the class divided into small groups and have the children analyze and solve the problems together. The teacher would move between groups helping with instructional scaffolding. It's amazing how students can help each other to learn.

By B707 — On Aug 04, 2011

When I taught English as a Second Language to adult refugees, I had a lot of Russian students in my classes. I didn't know about the scaffolding theory of learning at the time. But I did notice that my Russian students tended to prefer a regular, sequential learning pattern.

They seemed to like lessons to be predictable and more structured. I usually presented new material to them briefly, but then used whole class or small group activities to help them figure out the English language for themselves. This method usually worked well.

By Markus — On Aug 04, 2011

@goldensky - One of the founding fathers behind the scaffolding theory is Jerome Bruner. He is dubbed as the "father of cognitive psychology."

Bruner is an American psychologist born in October 1915. He graduated from Harvard in nineteen forty one and first introduced his scaffolding theory, as he called it, in the late fifties. He was a faculty member in the Psychology Department at Harvard for twenty years.

Bruner based his theories on his studies of the Vygotsky Scaffolding Theory. Lev Vygotsky was a Russian psychologist born in Western Russia in June 1896.

The government refused his theory of learning but his students were fascinated by it. Vygotsky died in 1934 of tuberculosis but his instructional scaffolding theory has been a huge influence on Russian education.

By goldensky — On Aug 03, 2011

Who came up with Bruner's Scaffolding Theory? I didn't see that information mentioned anywhere in the article. Forgive me if I've overlooked it.

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