The concept of instructional scaffolding is related to Vygotsy’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) which is defined 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 (Vygotsky, 1978, p.33). Scaffolding is an instructional tool that provides the learner with just enough information to help them complete a task. There is a wealth of research on the effectiveness of scaffolding in learning, dating from the 1970s to the present, and applied to all kinds of learning, from early childhood to adult distance education.
What does good scaffolding look like? If you want to see effective scaffolding at work, play a digital game. One of my new favorites is The Room (The Room Two just came out), available for the iPad, Kindle Fire, or any tablet device that supports Google Play. This is an award-winning game set up as a mystery story (I’m a huge mystery fan) that has you piecing together clues and solving problems, one room at a time. I discovered it last week when looking for a fun game to play after completing the first three chapters of my thesis (woohoo!). This game has me hooked, and as I was playing it I noticed how it is an excellent example of scaffolding.
In each room, you can access clues, one by one, by clicking on the question mark when it appears. Each clue provides you with a bit more information that should help you figure out how to solve the problem at hand. You don’t have to look at the clues, and you can even turn them off in the settings for a real challenge.
So what is it about the clues that reflect great scaffolding? First of all, they’re optional. Secondly, they are provided at just the right time. Thirdly, they build on each other (for example, you may get three clues, but each one builds off the previous one to provide you with more information). And finally, they are written in a way that provides just enough, but not too much information. As the game advances, there seem to be fewer clues, which forces you to become more independent at the problem solving. That’s also a sign of good scaffolding. Right now, I’m stuck in one of the rooms in Room Two, and I’m determined to figure it out!
If you find yourself with a bit of leisure time over the holidays, check out The Room (which is free on the iPad at least), and pay attention to the clues as an example of awesome scaffolding!