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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.