Scaffolding, Maps and Possible Routes

This post is my response to the Dogme Blog Challenge #3 (“The Scaffolding”) proposed by Karenne Sylvester. You can read my previous Dogme Challenge posts here (for #1) or here (for #2). Here’s the quote for this week’s challenge:


“The teacher’s primary function, apart from promoting the kind of classroom dynamic conducive to a dialogic and emergent pedagogy, is to optimize language learning affordances, by directing attention to features of the emergent language; learning can be mediated through talk, especially talk that is shaped and supported (i.e. scaffolded) by the teacher. “

~ Luke Meddings & Scott Thornbury, Teaching Unplugged, Delta Teacher Development Series, 2009.

Which of these two is the teacher? Which is the student?

The term “scaffolding” was first used refering to learning by a cognitive psychologist, Jerome Bruner, in the 50’s. He used it to describe how children learn and develop language with the help of their parents. How parents naturally help children find the ways to communicate orally when they’re struggling with it. Scaffolding is a temporary arrangement – the scaffold is there only until the child is able to successfully communicate what he/she wanted on his/her own.

When we bring the concept to the classroom, scaffolding means that teachers should not “spoon-feed” their students, but rather give them just what is necessary for the student to reach the desired communication (by the student) effectively, on his/her own. The learner has to be in charge and responsible for his/her own learning – not only about what to learn (the emergent learning), or the how to do it, but for the learning process itself. We’re way past the time of  teachers as almighty possessors of all knowledge who kindly give the knowledge to their students. As I mentioned in a previous post, teaches these days are more of facilitators, guides in the learner’s path to assimilating a new language (or at least we should be).




When I think about the role of teachers today I see us as the ones who have a map in our hands, a map to get to effectively using English (in my case) to communicate. Of course the way there has many possible stops (functions), and a wide choice of roads to get to the same place. The teacher is the one who chooses what he believes is the best road for each student (or group of students). Some routes are more fun, some are faster than others; just as some students are in a hurry to get to their final destination and others prefer to take their time and enjoy the view.  The teacher then points the student in the right direction for the road, show the road, and may even give a few steps along the learner on the road chosen but ultimately lets him/her go on alone – after he sees the path. The teacher’s job then is to keep an eye (from a distance) on the learner, just to make sure he/she doesn’t get lost along the way, and to stay at an arm’s length for when the learner wants to go somewhere else.



Where is Present Perfectville again?


So, I think I understand scaffolding language learning. But how do I do it? There are many ways.

  • Doing an activity with a text that has the desired language in it and work with it in a way the student notices it, by asking questions that will direct the student there.
  • Doing some vocabulary work prior to an activity where the learners will most likely need that vocabulary to properly express themselves.  
  • Providing models of intended language before expecting students to do it (sometimes without actually teliing them that ).
  • Giving learners positive feedback at every new step they take (self-confidence is a must for real learning).


I could go on and on. And maybe I got it all wrong, and that’s not what scaffolding is about. And I would love to hear how you scaffold! 🙂


For more great posts on the Dogme Blog Challenge #3, you should read:

Mike Harrison’s “How do you scaffold?”

David Warr’s “For those who know…”

Nick Jaworski’s “Dogme in the mind of a Teacher”

Henrick Oprea’s “Scaffolding”

Sabrina de Vita’s “Dogme with Young Learners”


17 comments on “Scaffolding, Maps and Possible Routes

  1. […] bloggers responding to Round 3: Dogme in the mind of a teacher: memory techniques by Nick Jaworski, Scaffolding, maps and possible routes by Cecilia […]

  2. Hi Cecilia,

    Firstly, I gotta tell you that I’ve been enjoying your blog very much!

    Secondly, that I’ll play the devil’s advocate in my comment, the reason being I haven’t finished my degree in building construction, therefore I don’t have a licence to structure scaffolds. Nevertheless, the series is about Dogme, so here I go.

    – If you are, as you say, “asking questions that will direct the student there” , being ‘there’ where YOU want them to be, that’s very anti-dogmatic I risk saying; you are instead inducing them to some pre-selected language.

    – “vocabulary work prior to an activity…that learners will most likely need to properly express themselves”. How do you know what words they will need to express themselves?

    – Adding to the previous item your “providing models of intended language before expecting students to do it” you are hindering emergence imho, and again by ‘intended language’ you are choosing, and unintentionally limiting perhaps, their language. Moreover, there’s very little evidence (in case we need it) that pre-teaching actually works, i.e. presenting some vocab beforehand doesn’t guarantee learners will use it.

    – I could well agree with you in the last one, but as I said, I’m not willing to cooperate this time ; ). By providing learners with feedback “at every new step they take”, you’re not only boosting self-confidence but also creating other-evaluation extrinsic-motivation addicts that in the long run might not know how to self-evaluate and assess their own learning progression, and when they don’t have the teacher anymore to give constant feedback their self-confidence will go down the drain.

    wow, it seems I’m in a bad mood uh? but no, quite the contrary. I like your ideas and principles so much to hold back from provoking an interesting discussion with you. 🙂

    • Hi Willy!

      Did you take the PNP approach to commenting on my post? you started with complimenting (positive) then you went on to question it (negative) and then closed it with more positive remarks… Just kidding! I loved your devil’s adovocate role – they made me reflect and that’s the best thing about writing a blog, isn’t it? I’m going to try and reply to your points in order, to make it easy to follow (at least for me), ok?

      – When I say that I ask questions to direct students there I am, in no way, refering to a place where I want to get. That “destination” has been established by the student and picked up by me. The selection of the text is what really defines who’s saying what’s to be taught/learned – and that’s where picking up clues from the student’s interests comes in. With the questions I’m simply indicating the route I believe to be the most suitable for him/her to learn the target language. As for the pre-selected language, I think it is connected to your next point, so I’ll reply it next, ok?

      – You asked how do I know what words they will need to express themselves. Well, I get it from common words associated with the topic, from classroom experience, from predicting/thinking about possible ways the learners might take the discussion/activity. I can’t get from the students, because we’re talking about the language they are going to learn. Of course I can get ideas from things they say, or I can even have them research in advance and bring vocabulary related to the topic, but I can’t do that every time. And sometimes the students will need other words that I hadn’t thought of, but then it’s my job to see it and provide them on the spot. It’s no exact science. But it usually works.

      – Again, providing models of intended language deals with what you have picked up from students’ input and believe to be their intended target language. I don’t believe I’m hendering emergence but rather taking it and using it, developing it. I agree that pre-teaching may not always work, but it sometimes does. At the very least pre-teaching language helps the less confident, shyer students feel less anxious about what is expected of them. But I have had many lessons in which students used the language pre-taught, so it does work with some students. And honestly, what guarantees have you found in the teaching world? I find it difficult, considering we have such diverse contexts, students, learning paces and styles….

      – And finally, on the one you thought you could agree with me, I’m going to head straight on into you 😉 The idea of creating motivation-addicts is so preposterous to me! you have to be one of those teachers who only give students positive, meaningless and generic feedback for there being a chance of that happening (IMHO). The kind of feedback I give is motivating but extremely reflective, because the objective is to create learner awareness and independence.

      I’m not sure I was able to reply to your great comments as they deserved… have to invest in more research. Most of what I know, say and write is based on experience rather than theoretical knowledge. But I tried 😉 Loved your provoking me. Love a good discussion, please keep on doing it!


      • Wonderfully replied Cecilia! And now I’m not going to do the PNP thing on you.

        let’s see it one by one:

        – re: “directing students”, nothing to add here.

        – re: “pre-selected language”, you say “I get it from classroom experience” and that’s the best thing you could’ve answered. I see you have been teaching in a certain context for awhile, so this is really valid in my opinion. It amazes me how some teachers having taught in one place for a long time still rely heavily on the coursebook to tell them what to pre-teach.
        Another interesting bit is, “I can even have them research in advance and bring vocabulary related to the topic, but I can’t do that every time”. It’s funny how we teachers know so many things that would really work and improve learner’s learning like them preparing the material before lessons, but this and many other things depend on the learners themselves. So you’re right, you can’t do it every time, they have to do it.

        – re: modeling/preteach, You said, “I have had many lessons in which students used the language pre-taught, so it does work with some students”. Fair enough, I could only argue against that if I were you student. Nonetheless, I particularly don’t like it, I prefer something more toward what David Warr described in this dogme ring, which you linked below your original post.
        I loved your question:”what guarantees have you found in the teaching world?”
        I answer: None! However, in the learning world I have found some, you might have too I believe, if not, you will.

        – re: feedback. Again, the idea of my questioning was that you expanded on how and why you give feedback, which was very briefly stated on the original post. Also, who am I to question its consequence? I’m not your student as I said before 😉
        Anyway, I don’t think the idea of external-approval junkies is absurd, I know plenty of them and the world is full of “one of those teachers”.

        The best you can do is to be based on your experience, that’s the closest you can get to reality, to truth, and to guarantees if you need any. Reflecting on your practice is better than the most scholarly valid research. People would still learn English if there weren’t any researches around anyway.

      • Hi Willy,

        Reading your comments and thinking of how to reply to you has been so much fun! I love a good exchange 😉 Thank you for not doing the PNP thing – it brings dreadful memories from the past! So here it goes:

        I completely agree with you when you say that it’s easy for people who have been teaching in the same place for a long time (I’ve been in the school I work at for 10 years – plan on staying for another 30!) to rely heavily on coursebooks. I’d take it even a little further and say some people not only over rely on coursebooks but also on old practices, doing the same activities and the same lessons year after year. Some don’t like being given groups of different levels every semester. They stay very comfortably “nested” in their comfort zones. And when I talked about me not being able to “do it every time” I meant me asking the students to research in advance and bring material. They do the work – I only assign it. And if I can’t do this every time is just because it will be boring, the same thing again and again. Variety has great weigh on keeping students motivated.

        I also likes the way David describes the emergent learning process, the “pulling” instead of “pushing” – He’s got a way with words, doesn’t he? As for guarantees found as a student, well I have to be honest and say I haven’t found many. As a student I have found things I related to and identified with, approaches that helped me learn and other not so much… But guarantees… can’t think of any but that learning is an ongoing and ever lasting process. And I like that idea!

        I have come across quite a few of the external-approval addicts in my life (as a teacher or not), and I can just say I feel sorry for them, because the world sure isn’t going to be all about positive feedback, and then they won’t know how to handle criticism and turn it into opportunity for growth and better understanding of yourself and your ways. Pity really. I keep up the positive thinking that if I change the ways of one of those addicts when they come through my hands, it’s a victory.

        Thanks for some great reflection… You can always play devil’s advocate here. Be my guest!

  3. […] exactly does it mean – being a teacher? Just as Cecília Coelho wrote in her response to the same challenge, the role of the teacher is not only to transmit knowledge anymore. This […]

  4. dfogarty says:

    Socrates was probably the master scaffolder. I’m not referring to the Brazilian wonder, but the Greek thinker. His socratic method involved asking questions to lead people to the answers. Interestingly, children seem to be expert scaffolders for their own learning as anyone who has spent time answering a multitude of questions can tell you. Yesterday, I had the following dialogue with my youngest:
    Where do fish live?
    In the sea.

    In a classroom, I had a more serious discussion:

    S: I hate Indians.
    T: How many Indians do you know?
    S: None.
    T: How can you hate them if you don’t know them.
    S: The owner of the shop near my flat is very rude.
    T: Is he from India?
    S: Yes.
    T: Not from Pakistan or Bangladesh?
    S: ???
    T: Is there anyone else?
    S: My landlord.
    T: Is he Indian or Pakistani or Bangladeshi?
    S: ???
    T: How many people live in India?
    S: Millions.
    T: And you have met how many?
    S: Two
    T: Do you really think that you can say that you hate Indians? Can’t you think of a better way of saying it?

    we eventually got around to reformulating the sentence to, “I hate rude people.”
    And lions?
    In Africa.
    And tigers?
    In India.
    And me?
    In Thorncliffe Road.
    And birds?
    In the trees.
    And houses?
    Do they live in shops?

    • Diarmuid, You seem to be a master scaffolder yourself! Fantastic the way you got him to reflect and reformulate his statement. As a teacher I am annoyingly full of questions all the time – my students get sick and tired of me, but they develop their fluency and argumentation skills a lot 😉 I love asking question until you can’t draw anything else.
      Thanks for sharing!

  5. […] Cecilia Coelho – Scaffolding, Maps and Possible Routes […]

  6. Oh lord, Diarmuid has gotten me lost in laughter and I so loved your map analogy! Except that I would suggest that the student is the one with the desination in mind – and although they might not know, exactly, where it is they’re going, we are the über-Indian-guides (indigenous Americans rather than those mentioned by DF) who know all the routes to help get them there!


    • That’s exactly how I see it Karenne!!! The difference between us and the students is only that we have a map (in our minds) and we (hopefully) know more ways and roads and dirt roads to get to all the places. It’s true that sometime sit may feel like opening a trail with a machete but… It’s always worth it.


  7. Ann says:

    Just posted a link to this on the TeachingEnglish facebook page if you’d like to check for comments.

    Please feel free to post there when you have anything you’d like to share.



  8. Reblogged this on Oh, late became ! and commented:
    “When we bring the concept to the classroom, scaffolding means that teachers should not “spoon-feed” their students, but rather give them just what is necessary for the student to reach the desired communication (by the student) effectively, on his/her own. “

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