We often talk about supporting students in their learning process. This support is primarily considered scaffolding. This is important for all teachers to understand, particularly language teachers in immersion contexts.

Below is a little something that I wrote recently on scaffolding to justify including it in a workshop for content-area teachers who are learning to work with English language learners.


Sheltered instruction is often thought of as sheltering ELLs from their native speaking counterparts (Freeman & Freeman, 1988); however, this view has evolved significantly over the years in include language and content support in a variety of contexts (Grabe & Stoller, 1997). Sheltered instruction is what should take place in CBI contexts where the focus is on content rather than language. Sheltered instruction is the supporting of ELL’s content-area learning (Bunch, Abram, Lotan, & Valdés, 2001; Short, 1991). This can be done in many ways, as described above in the CBI continuum. However, the general focus is on scaffolding instruction to the extent that learners can participate and learn in content-area classes.<o:p></o:p>

Sheltered instruction provides support for ELLs through the use of scaffolding (Antón, 1999; Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976), which aims to make input comprehensible (Krashen, 1982). This is similar to Vygotsky’s (1978) concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD), “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). Relating this back to Krashen’s (1982) i+1 concept (comprehensible input), learners are provided with input just a little above their “actual developmental level” (Vygotsky’s terminology) in order for them to advance to their “potential developmental level.”<o:p></o:p>

Scaffolding can take on many forms. Brush and Saye (2002) make the distinction between “hard” and “soft” scaffolding. Hard scaffolding is the purposeful, planned use of materials that are designed to support learners. These materials can range from texts (e.g., books, notes, etc.) to audio/video (e.g., lecture recordings, podcasts with a variety of content, etc.) to graphical/visual (e.g., animation, illustrations, models, etc.). Soft scaffolding is the dynamic feedback provided to learners by instructors or peers (de Guerrero & Villamil, 2000; Ewald, 2005; Salomon & Perkins, 1998) that addresses perceived gaps in understanding or performance.<o:p></o:p>

Additionally, both soft and hard scaffolding can take on different general forms when working with ELLs, including: cognitive/conceptual (Ausubel, 1968 cited in; O’Neill, 1988; Charles M. Reigeluth, 1999), linguistic (Lam & Wong, 2000; Mohan & Beckett, 2003; Ulanoff & Pucci, 1999), cultural (Risko & Walker-Dalhouse, 2007), and affective (Rosiek, 2003). Cognitive/conceptual scaffolding is the provision of support focusing on cognitive strategies and metacognitive skills. Linguistic scaffolding is the provision of language-related support such as structural, lexical, and pragmatic. Cultural scaffolding supports understandings of and connections between diverse cultural backgrounds, both for learners and guides (teachers other students) towards the “other” culture(s). Affective scaffolding supports the emotional/psychological needs of the learners (e.g., anxiety, self-efficacy, and self-esteem).<o:p></o:p>

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