Coaching & Scaffolding: Knowing What They Know

In a recent post, I talked about the importance of scaffolding as a coaching/management technique. In this post, I’m going to talk a bit more about what scaffolding is and how to do it effectively. There are a couple of differences between scaffolding and traditional teaching. First scaffolding requires the active involvement of the learner. Second, it is dependent (contingent) upon what the learner already knows and what he/she is capable of learning with assistance. Next, over time, the expert fades or reduces his/her support and transfers the responsibility for learning to the learner.

Given that scaffolding is contingent on the needs, knowledge and abilities of the learner, the best place to start is with an assessment of their current knowledge.
Here are some possible questions for assessment (Holton & Clarke, 2006):

  • What do you already know?
  • Have you ever dealt with a problem/project like this before?
  • Is there anything you’ve done another time that might be helpful?
  • Do you know this sort of problem?
  • Do you think you know what to do?

The employee’s answers to these questions will help you determine what level of support is needed, if any.  Then you can plan your scaffolding tactics. Sounds wonderful. But in practice, how do you accomplish this? There are six general methods of scaffolding, which include:

  1. feedback which involves sharing information about the learner’s performance to the learner directly,
  2. hints whereby the expert provides hints, tips or suggestions to help the learner move forward in the task, without providing an answer,
  3. instruction which involves direct explanation of a task, explicitly sharing what must be done, how and why,
  4. explanation whereby the expert clarifies or provides additional information,
  5. modeling which involves demonstration of the expected behaviour, skills or knowledge, and,
  6. questioning wherein the expert uses questions to guide the learner in the process of problem solving or critical thinking without providing “the answer” (van de Pol, Voman & Beishuzen, 2010).

Note that the assessment used a scaffolding method, questioning. No matter what the project, assignment or problem, I recommend doing a quick learner assessment at the beginning of the process. After a while the learner will begin to automatically undertake this assessment themselves, and begin to identify where they need assistance, and where they can operate independently.


Holton, D., & Clarke, D. (2006). Scaffolding and metacognition. International Journal  of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 37(2), 127–143.
van de Pol, J., Volman, M., & Beishuizen, J. (2010). Scaffolding in Teacher-Student Interaction: A Decade of Research. Educational Psychology Review, 22(3), 271–296.

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