I Do, We Do, You Do – The importance of Scaffolding

It’s not a bad analogy to think of learning as if you were building a house.

Although you’re going to need help, when the house is finished it will all be yours. Firstly, it’s important that the foundations are strong, if not what follows may be unstable and at worst collapse. Then slowly but surely, you place one brick on top of another. The whole process requires planning, time, motivation and a significant amount of effort. But when the roof is finally on and you move in, you should feel rightly proud of what you have achieved and hopefully believe it’s all been worth it.

Although the house now looks strong and well-built, a short while ago it was covered in scaffolding, which was essential if the house was ever to be finished.

And that’s a nice introduction (hopefully) to this months’ blog, something that helps make learning possible but at the end can no longer be seen – Its name scaffolding!

Scaffolding (background – bear with me)
The term scaffolding first appeared in the work of Jerome Bruner in the 1960s and more formally when he published his ideas in the early 70’s. According to Bruner when a learner first encounters a new concept, they need help from an expert or teacher but as the learner becomes more independent in their thinking and acquires new skills and knowledge, the support can be gradually removed. The implication is that the learner will be able to achieve far more with scaffolding than would have been possible on their own.

Bruner’s ideas were not his alone and were an extension of some of the work of Lev Vygotsky and his thoughts around the zone of proximal development (ZPD). The diagram shows what a learner can achieve on their own compared to what is possible with guidance.

Direct instruction – I do- we do – you do
Its very easy to be underwhelmed by both Bruner and Vygostky, in simple terms all they are saying is that, people can learn more if they are supported and helped by an expert, Wow! But their work underpinned a popular and very practical technique, a form of Direct Instruction, called, I Do – We Do – You Do.

As you might know from previous blogs, I am a big fan of Direct Instruction, largely because there is evidence that proves it works. But sometimes it’s hard to convince others as to its merits because the term “instruction” sounds like you are telling the learner what to do, which some believe in particular Constructivists that this is not the best way to teach. Yet few would argue with this model, partly because it seems sensible, is practical and effective.

In addition, it’s one of the most popular techniques used in Professional Education, this is because of the very tight time constraints, levels of technical detail that have to be learned and the high stakes nature of the exam.

Here’s how it works.

  • I Do – In this phase the teacher should model the new learning having broken the content into small chunks, using worked examples and step by step instruction. The learners should have their pens down (Tablets, PCs closed) so they can focus on what the teacher is doing. Pace is important, the modelling should not be rushed, questions can be taken at the end.
  • We Do – This is when the scaffolding starts to take effect. In this phase the learners have a go on their own or at least attempt part of the task before stopping to check if they are on the right track, maybe confirming their understanding. The teacher needs to remain alert and might have to step in to clarify an area that seems to be holding everyone back. It may prove necessary to stay at this stage for some time, there is little point moving on until everyone is happy to do so.
  • You Do – Finally, once the learners are confident with the steps required, they are ready to have a go completely on their own. The whole process is effectively a gradual release of responsibility, giving the learner more and more control over their own learning until they become independent. There could also be a need for some levels of personalisation because some learners will take longer than others to master the new content.

This is not the only way you can use scaffolding, there are many other techniques but I hope that you can see its one of the most effective.

Video – don’t be put off by the simple nature of this video, it explains it very well.