Scaffolding learning – a different perspective?


As teachers we break a subject down into components or elements of knowledge and understanding, into learning steps if you like. We then find the “best” way to deliver these steps in a way learners will, with a measured degree of effort, assimilate.  This process is influenced by our knowledge and understanding of pedagogy and our relationship with the learners. In short we “scaffold” learning.  Fairly straightforward but have you thought about it from a learner’s perspective?  No? – Well read on!

Using what we know to learn what we don’t know

I have come to believe that we learn by building on what we know. This to me is a sort of mental map of my knowledge and understanding, knowing and learning (yes there is a difference, see this article: The bigger and more detailed the map the more confident we are and easier we find learning something new. For example it has been shown that speaking more than one language helps in learning a new language. I have a way of visualising this process of building on what I already know and call it “anchoring”. I look to make sense of what it is I am trying to learn or understand by referencing it with what I already know or understand what I have already learnt. I make links between what I already know and what I need to learn.


Anchoring essentially involves problem solving, an important aspect of Learning Intelligence, LQ (download a leaflet here: about-lq-with-lq-graphic). This is how this approach works and how a teacher can use it effectively in their lessons.

From the learner’s perspective

1) As the topic or subject is introduced we have to look and listen for words or phrases we already recognise.

2) We cannot assume they mean the same thing in this scenario as they do in others so we need to seek clarification and check meaning and relevance.

3) We take enough time to reflect on how what we know fits in with what we are learning. This also involves asking questions to check the links are valid.

4) Next is a sort of consolidation phase, where we explore a little further trying to see where what we know already and what we are trying to learn may take us.

5) This leads to as a sort of prediction phase where the links are established and we are ready to embark on a new learning journey.  We can make educated guesses or predictions if given certain pieces of information.

So learning starts by seeing learning as a problem to solve and a period of analysis and reflection.

From the teacher’s perspective

1) Ask yourself what students need to know or understand in order to make a start on this topic and prepare questions you can ask to check before starting the topic.

2) Don’t assume understanding. Often the same words or phrases can be learnt without understanding. Build in a check and reflection phase during the topic introduction.  Acknowledge and praise where students show understanding or can make links with relevant knowledge.

3) Create an opportunity for students to identify what they already know and how it can be useful in the learning process.

4) Introduce risk taking in the learning process. Encourage students to make assumptions or predictions about the new topic. Here are some questions that can be used to initiate this process. “Knowing what we know already what might happen if…?” “How do you think this might link to…?” You are actually leading up to “Let’s find out”

5) Don’t underestimate how much effort this takes on the part of the learner.  Allow for structured mental breaks and reflection periods. Build in activities that create opportunity for pair or small group work and class feedback sessions.

The proof is in the pudding

I have tried this out on myself in learning about path-finding algorithms used in game programming and after 50 minutes I was in need of a mental break despite being very interested.  I went through all the steps I suggest a student goes through here. During the process I was not passive, there is no good sitting there and hoping you are on the same page as the teacher. Learning intelligence, LQ, is about managing your learning environment and that means interacting with it.

There are two other observations to make about this approach. Firstly I was able to contribute much sooner than if I had just listened. I was in an active learner state earlier. This is important if we as learners are going to maximise opportunities for learning. For teachers it means a greater rate of progress.

Secondly I have a deeper understanding of the topic in a much shorter period of time and anchors that can be used to recall the learning links later. These anchors can be thought of the start of trail of “bread crumbs” marking our thought and learning associations. In case of reviewing or revisiting what we have learnt, and possibly forgotten, we can pick up the trail again starting from an established anchor point.  By following the same trail we reach the same understanding but importantly we can do this independently using our internal prompts. A simplified example is knowing that 12 x 12 is 144 so when asked what 24 x 12 is we can start at  12 x 12 and quickly recognise we are talking about twice as much.

I would be interested if you  scaffold your teaching or learning in this way too.




Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About 4c3d

"4c3d" (AcEd) is the abbreviation for Advocating Creativity in education, a company I set up to challenge how we think about and deliver education. The blog champions my concept of Learning intelligence, how we manage our learning environment to meet our learning needs.

One response to “Scaffolding learning – a different perspective?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: