Likewise, Ohta (2001) demonstrated that L2 learners of Japanese were able to provide developmentally appropriate assistance to one another, in a sense “creating a greater expertise for the group than of any of the individuals involved”.
The following quote from Gee (1999, p. 49) sums this up nicely:
“Thinking and using language is an active matter of assembling the situated meanings that you need for action in the world. This assembly is always relative to your socioculturally defined experiences in the world and, more or less, routinized (normalized) through cultural models and various social practices of the sociocultural groups to which you belong “.
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Accordingly, previous research from the perspective of the sociocultural theory of mind suggests that writing tasks completed in pairs offer learners an opportunity to collaborate in the solution of their language-related problems, co-construct new language knowledge, and produce linguistically more accurate written texts. Building on this research, the texts written by the groups were more accurate than those written individually.
2.2.1. Writing in Vygotsky’s school of thought
The premise for this dissertation is that writing is a complex form of social and cultural activity which involves a “high level of abstraction” as pupils attempt to communicate meaning (Vygotsky, 1986, p. 181). Vygotsky (1986) argues that the process of composition involves social and cultural interaction leading to the translation from inner speech, or internalized thought, to outer speech in the form of writing. This change involves “deliberate semantics—deliberate structuring of the web of meaning” that is unique to writing (Vygotsky 1986, p. 182).
Vygotsky’s (1978) “Social Constructivism Theory” postulated that all learning stems from social interaction and meaning is socially constructed through communication, activity and interaction with others. In the theory, Vygotsky brings up two important concepts which is the “More Knowledgeable Other” (MKO) and the “Zone of Proximal Development” (ZPD) that will be explained in detail in the following sections.
18.104.22.168. More Knowledgeable Other or MKO
The MKO refers to a person with more competence and understanding of the subject. The MKO shares knowledge with the student to bridge the gap between what is known and what is not known. The MKO may be a teacher, an older adult or even a peer who is more experienced and advanced in the area of writing. In collaborative writing, the MKO refers to the “expert writer” of the group, a person who is more proficient in the English language and even a person who has more ideas and experiences about the subject matter. By engaging with the MKO through social learning in class, the learner will learn faster. Until students can demonstrate task mastery of new or difficult tasks, they are given more assistance or support from a teacher or a MKO. As the learner moves towards mastery, the assistance or support is gradually decreased in order to shift the responsibility for learning from the MKO to the learner (Larkin, 2002). This brings us to Vygotsky’s second concept, which is the ZPD.
22.214.171.124. Elaboration of ZPD
Vygotsky (1978) claimed that learning will only take place in the “Zone of Proximal Development”. It was Vygotsky’s belief that “good learning” occurs in the child’s zone of proximal development. Important to teaching in the ZPD is the determination of what the student can manage on his own and to allow the student to do as much as possible without any assistance. “Fading” is the process of gradually removing the scaffolding that was put into place for the child until it is completely gone. Eventually, the child internalizes the information and becomes a self-regulated, independent learner. This zone bridges the gap between what is known and what can be known through the help of expert-novice peer collaboration. A mixture of “expert” writers and “novice” writers in a team creates scaffolding that will be discussed in detail in the next section. These two groups get to learn from each other the various writing strategies employed. Britton, Burgess, Martin, Mc Leod, and Rosen (1975, p. 39) describe this transformational process as “the dialectical interrelationship of thought and language”. Writing therefore represents both a complex activity and a developmental mode of learning.
A central theme in this paper will be the argument that the most powerful forms of learning take place when students are working within a Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), defined by Vygotsky (1978) as 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 (p. 86). Vygotsky goes on to describe the ZPD as a tool through which the internal course of development can be understood (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 87) and argues that “the only good kind of instruction is the one which marches ahead of development and leads it; it must be aimed not so much at the ripe as at the ripening functions” (Vygotsky, 1986, p. 188). The ZPD is always changing as the student expands and gains knowledge. Yet, Vygotsky never specified the forms of social assistance to learners that constitute a ZPD beyond generalized comments about “collaboration and direction. This study examines both the mediating role of teachers in the development of a particular pupil’s writing abilities and the consequent appropriation and internalization of the cultural tools required for writing. Through an analysis of the production of a text co-constructed between a student and teacher, an argument is developed that the recursive nature of writing development is an essential element for the learner’s own agency in the creation of a social environment for development. We put forward an argument that the key to understanding development of an individual’s psychological and mental functions lies in analyzing the social interaction that the individual is involved in during the learning process: that is, “the immediate culture of teaching and learning”.
2.3. Scaffolding in classroom situations
With the development of software tools and classrooms interactions as forms of scaffolds, the notion of scaffolding has evolved since its original conception and has changed considerably from the 1990s into the early 21st century. While later approaches have helped researchers understand the kinds of support that are needed to help classroom communities learn successfully, there have also been some aspects of scaffolding that have been difficult to achieve because of the reality of scaffolding in a classroom. Thus, although the notion of scaffolding has evolved, and understanding of providing support in multiple formats has been enriched, it is necessary to think about the critical elements that are missing, such as the ongoing diagnosis of student learning, the careful calibration of support, and fading, the transfer of responsibility to the student. First, we shed some light on this concept and then elaborate it much more.
The term ‘scaffolding’ comes from the works of Wood, Bruner and Ross (1976). The term ‘scaffolding’ was developed as a metaphor to describe the type of assistance offered by a teacher or peer to support learning.
The notion of scaffolding is increasingly being used to describe the support provided for students to learn successfully in classrooms, especially the use of project or design-based activities to teach math and science (e.g., Kafai, 1994; Kolodner et al., 2003; Krajcik et al., 1998). Many of these approaches are based on a socio-constructivist model (Vygotsky, 1978; Wertsch, Mcnamee, Mc Lare, & Budwig, 1980) emphasizing that learning occurs in a rich social context, marked by interaction, negotiation, articulation, and collaboration. The original notion of scaffolding, as used in the initial studies of parent-child interactions (Bruner, 1975) or in teacher-student interactions, focused on situations that allowed for one-on-one interactions between the adult or the expert and the learner. The one-on-one nature of the tutoring allowed the adult/teacher to provide “titrated support” (Stone, 1998) that changed based on the progress made by the learner. However, classroom situations involving many students do not allow for the fine-tuned, sensitive, personalized exchange that occurs in one-on-one or small-group scaffolding. Therefore, instead of one teacher working with each student, support is provided in a paper or software tool that individuals interact with, or classroom activities are redefined so that peers can help each other (e.g., Bell & Davis, 2000; Jackson, Krajcik, & Soloway, 1998; Pun-Tambekar & Kolodner, 2002; Reiser et al., 2001).
Of great importance is allowing the student to complete unassisted tasks as much as possible. The teacher only attempts to help the student with tasks that are just beyond his current capability. Student errors are expected and likely; but, with teacher feedback and prompting, the student is able to achieve the task or goal. When the student takes the responsibility for or masters the task, the teacher begins the process of “fading”, or simply put, the gradual removal of the scaffolding, which allows the student to work independently. Scaffolding is actually a bridge used to build upon what students already know to arrive at something they do not know. If scaffolding is properly administered, it will act as an enabler, not as a disabler (Benson, 1997).
Zhao and Orey (1999, p. 6) summarize this concept in the following order: “Scaffolding is a metaphor to characterize a special type of instructional process which works in a task-sharing situation between the teacher and the learner.” The authors further delineate this basic idea into two key aspects (or rules): “(a) help the learner with those aspects of the task that the learner cannot manage yet; and (b) allow the learner to do as much as he or she can, without help of others”.
2.3.1. Facilitative methods in scaffolding
Many different facilitative tools can be utilized in scaffolding student learning. Among them are: breaking the task into smaller more, manageable parts; using ‘think aloud’, or verbalizing thinking processes when completing a task; cooperative learning, which promotes teamwork and dialogue among peers; concrete prompts, questioning; coaching; cue cards or modeling. Others might include the activation of background knowledge, giving tips, strategies, cues and procedures. Teachers have to be mindful of keeping the learner in pursuit of the task while minimizing the learner’s stress level. Skills or tasks too far out of reach can lead a student to his frustration level, and tasks that are too simple can cause much the same effect.
Each facilitative method used is chosen as an individually tailored instructional tool. Teachers have to have open dialogue with the students to determine what and how they are thinking in order to clear up misconceptions and to individualize instruction. Crucial to successful scaffolding is an understanding of the student’s prior knowledge and abilities. The teacher must ascertain what the student already knows so that it can be “hooked”, or connected to the new knowledge and made relevant to the learner’s life, thus increasing the motivation to learn.
2.3.2. Characteristics and Critical Features of Scaffolded Instruction
Lange (2002) believes that there are two major steps involved in instructional scaffolding:
(1) development of instructional plans to lead the students from what they already know to a deep understanding of new material,” and (2) “execution of the plans, wherein the instructor provides support to the students at every step of the learning process.
In an appropriate scaffolding process, there will be specific identifiable features that are in place to allow facilitation of assisting the learner in internalizing the knowledge until mastery occurs. Applebee and Langer (1983), as cited by Zhao and Orey (1999, p. 6), identify these five features as:
• Intentionality: The task has a clear overall purpose driving any separate activity that may contribute to the whole.
• Appropriateness: Instructional tasks pose problems that can be solved with help but which students could not successfully complete on their own.
• Structure: Modeling and questioning activities are structured around a model of appropriate approaches to the task and lead to a natural sequence of thought and language.
• Collaboration: The teacher’s response to student work recasts and expands upon the students’ efforts without rejecting what they have accomplished on their own. The teacher’s primary role is collaborative rather than evaluative.
• Internalization: External scaffolding for the activity is gradually withdrawn as the patterns are internalized by the students.
Larkin (2002) suggests that scaffolding is one of the principles of effective instruction that enables teachers to accommodate individual student needs. In keeping with this theory, it can be seen that instruction must also be tailored around “contingent instruction”, which is a term identified by Reichgerlt, Shadbolt, Paskiewica, Wood and Wood (1993) as cited by Zhao and Orey (1999). The teacher or MKO realizes that the amount of instructional support given is dependent upon the outcome of the previous assistance. If a learner is unable to complete a task after an intervention by the MKO, then he or she is immediately given a more specific directive. Equally, if the learner is successful with an intervention, then he or she is given a less explicit directive the next time he or she needs assistance. Next, the instructor or MKO must recognize that the instructional intervention must be specific to the task the learner is currently attempting to complete. Finally, the teacher must keep in the forefront of the process that the student must be given ample time to apply the directive or to try a new move him/herself before additional intervention is supplied.
2.3.3. Challenges and Benefits of Scaffolding
As with any other learning theory or strategy, there are challenges and benefits to scaffolding. Understanding and comparing both will assist the educational professional or trainer in their assessment of the usefulness of the strategies and techniques as well as allow for comprehensive planning before implementation. The challenges are real but can be overcome with careful planning and preparation.
• Very time consuming
• Lack of sufficient personnel
• Potential for misjudging the zone of proximal development; success hinges on identifying the area that is just beyond but not too far beyond students’ abilities
• Inadequately modeling the desired behaviors, strategies or activities because the teacher has not fully considered the individual student’s needs, predilections, interests, and abilities (such as not showing a student how to “double click” on an icon when using a computer)
• Full benefits not seen unless the instructors are properly trained
• Requires the teacher to give up control as fading occurs
• Lack of specific examples and tips in teacher’s editions of textbooks
When assessing the benefits of scaffolding, it is necessary to consider the context in which you wish to implement the strategies and techniques. Additionally, you must know the learners and evaluate their particular needs first.
• Possible early identifier of giftedness
• Provides individualized instruction
• Greater assurance of the learner acquiring the desired skill, knowledge or ability
• Provides differentiated instruction
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• Delivers efficiency – Since the work is structured, focused, and problems have been reduced or eliminated prior to initiation, time on task is increased and efficiency in completing the activity is increased.
• Creates momentum – Through the structure provided by scaffolding, students spend less time searching and more time on learning and discovering, resulting in quicker learning.
• Engages the learner.
• Motivates the learner to learn.
• Minimizes the level of frustration for the learner.
Current instantiations of the scaffolding construct have addressed a key aspect of scaffolding, i.e., that scaffolding is based on knowledge of the task and the difficulties that students have. However, the tools are permanent and unchanging; they provide structure and consistency by highlighting the aspects of the tasks that students should focus on. While this is by no means trivial, support becomes scaffolding only when it is adaptive, based on an ongoing diagnosis of student learning, and helps students to eventually internalize the knowledge and skills when the scaffolds are removed. More research is needed into how a system of scaffolding can be built, so that ongoing diagnosis and fading can be achieved in classroom situations.
2.3.4. Peer interaction: a good illustration and system of scaffolding