“The Trendy Word is ‘Scaffold'”

“The Trendy Word is ‘Scaffold'”


I blogged a couple of days ago about a mistake an Ofsted inspector had made during a headteacher’s briefing meeting.


It might be somewhat predictable, that as a teacher who’s been through 5 Ofsted inspections, I should seem to enjoy pointing out when an inspector makes a mistake. I’ve had enough of my own shortcomings identified during inspection that it might look like merely petty revenge…


Here’s another mistake anyway.


Part way through the briefing, the inspector, talking about the inadequacies of some aspect of teaching that she had seen somewhere, came up with the quote that makes the title of this post.


“The trendy word is scaffold.” She even raised her eyebrows as if it was some kind of new-fangled educational fad.


Wasn’t it Bruner who first related the word ‘scaffolding’ to teaching sometime in the 1950s? He was working on Vygotsky’s idea of the Zone of Proximal Development and came up with the concept that teachers could put structures in place to support learning. And isn’t that what teaching is? Teachers either fix the steps the students most go through to learn something, or they negotiate the steps with the students and guide them through those steps. Two ways if scaffolding – rigid and negotiated.


So, teachers scaffold learning. Some prefer the rigid approach, others negotiate the learning targets, and some mix it up. I’m not convinced that any one approach to scaffolding learning is better than any others, nor have I met any teachers who don’t scaffold their lessons in some shape or form.


I have seen some people get confused between lesson resources and scaffolding. Maybe this is what the inspector was getting at. For example I’ve seen writing frames given out to support a particular style of writing and been referred to as ‘scaffolding’. But that’s not trendy, it’s just wrong – Bruner referred to scaffolding as the interaction between the student and the teacher, not the handing out of some photocopied worksheet – photocopiers had barely hit the mass market by the time Bruner was doing his work anyway.


Maybe Bruner should be pleased that scaffolding is finally trendy. And maybe Ofsted will be raising their collective eyebrows at the work of others academics – a sly laugh at Piaget or a muffled cough at Vygotsky. Don’t worry though, these new fads won’t fool Ofsted.

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