The most important forms of scaffolding make use of our understanding of how we learn. Learning takes place in your short-term memory but this has only a limited capacity – typically limited to seven pieces of new information. More than that and the working memory usually can’t cope (a.k.a. “cognitive overload”). Of course, we can learn more than seven pieces of information but we need to practice new skills in order to pass them into long-term memory. It follows that if a teacher can offer strategies to reduce cognitive overload, students will find learning easier. Such strategies include:
breaking down the task into smaller steps - new skills often require the application of known skills in a specific way. By deconstructing a skill, a teacher can make the complex simple.
encouraging students to take notes - of their thoughts so that they are not trying to retain too many ideas in their working memories.
Scaffolding also often refers to linguistic support, and here are some of the ways in which it can be applied:
pre-teaching or eliciting new content vocabulary - if the learners have been taught the most difficult new terminology before starting to tackle the new concepts, these will be significantly easier to grasp.
paraphrasing - offering the same information using different words often helps to consolidate understanding.
asking questions - getting students to think about new ideas deepens understanding, while erroneous responses highlight misunderstandings, which can then be tackled.
definitions of new vocabulary - the footnotes at the bottom of this blog post are yet another type of scaffolding; they should ensure that the use of new vocabulary does not get in the way of acquiring new concepts.
graphic organizers - such as sentence frames. The standard structures used to talk about the new learning can be presented as open-ended sentences.
Scaffolding is a key concept in language learning since students’ ability to grasp new ideas through a foreign language will be largely determined by the teacher’s ability to scaffold effectively.