Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Jerome Bruner and others have talked about education as being a process of scaffolding. I am reminded of it by reading Bruner's book, On Knowing, Essays for the left hand. Bruner's concept of scaffolding comes from his recongnition that human intellect is sustained by an external skeleton as described below:
“(a) Human’s use of mind is dependent upon her/his ability to develop and use tools or instruments or technologies that make it possible for him to express and amplify her/his powers”
The link above offers an example of how scaffolding is implemented in the classroom. If you are in the building trades you will know that scaffolds are constructed of rigid components to allow workers to safely reach heights beyond the safety of ladders, so you can see that it the idea of scaffolding is an apt metaphor for what we would like to happen in schools.

This morning you can join me if you like. What are the components of a successful scaffold? Educational sloyd had offered the idea that education should start with the interests of the child, and if our interest is in launching the child as a confident lifelong learner, one might see that the interests of the child need to be a thread winding like a strand of DNA throughout the learning experience... in other words, that essential thing sustained and protected as a lifeline by the scaffold itself. What you find below is my effort to give it a graphic expression, though I've yet to learn how to create a helix using sketchup software.

Of what are the legs of the scaffold constructed? Here is an idea. One leg is experience, what the child already knows. The second leg is technology, as Einstein said, "My pencil and I are smarter than I am." You can think of the computer as the pencil on steroids. The teacher is challenged to build from the known to the unknown and various levels of technology are "instrumental". The third leg is that of the instructor, teacher, or mentor and his or her own knowledge which is used as an inspiration, challenge and in some cases pry bar to lift the scaffold higher and steady the child's climb. The fourth component has to do with the school culture. Does it support an atmosphere of inquiry, of creativity and creative expression? If we had the fundamental materials of scaffold building on site, what wonders would we behold in American education? Can you see it from where you are? Use scaffolding to get a better view.

There are those that think that technology, now being such a powerful tool, deserves to become the primary leg of the scaffold, and that the other legs can be allowed to languish. What do you think?

Today in the Clear Spring School classroom, 7th and 8th grade woodworking scholars worked on t-squares for beginning technical drawing. In the photo at left, John has countersunk the holes to attach the arm of the t-square to the head.

Make, fix and create.


  1. Anonymous4:40 PM

    Well done! And no doubt you'll figure out how to do a spiral with that software.


  2. I use scaffolding regularly and I find this an intriguing metaphor. It's seems like it might be capable of usefully describing a very deep (almost unconscious) edu-creative process. Will continue reading/thinking about this.