Levels and Types in the Educational Setting for Instructional Scaffolding

According to Saye and Brush, there are two levels of scaffolding: soft and hard (2002). An example of soft scaffolding in the classroom would be when a teacher circulates the room and converses with his or her students (Simon and Klein, 2007). The teacher may question their approach to a difficult problem and provide constructive feedback to the students. According to Van Lier, this type of scaffolding can also be referred to as contingent scaffolding. The type and amount of support needed is dependent on the needs of the students during the time of instruction (Van Lier, 1996). Unfortunately, applying scaffolding correctly and consistently can be difficult when the classroom is large and students have various needs (Gallagher, 1997). Scaffolding can be applied to a majority of the students, but the teacher is left with the responsibility to identify the need for additional scaffolding.

In contrast with contingent or soft scaffolding, embedded or hard scaffolding is planned in advance to help students with a learning task that is known in advance to be difficult (Saye and Brush, 2002). For example, when students are discovering the formula for the Pythagorean Theorem in math class, the teacher may identify hints or cues to help the student reach an even higher level of thinking. In both situations, the idea of "expert scaffolding" is being implemented (Holton and Clarke, 2006): the teacher in the classroom is considered the expert and is responsible for providing scaffolding for the students.

Reciprocal scaffolding, a method first coined by Holton and Thomas, is a method that involves a group of two or more collaboratively working together. In this situation, the group can learn from each other's experiences and knowledge. The scaffolding is shared by each member and changes constantly as the group works on a task (Holton and Clarke, 2006). According to Vygotsky, students develop higher-level thinking skills when scaffolding occurs with an adult expert or with a peer of higher capabilities (Stone, 1998). Conversely, Piaget believes that students discard their ideas when paired with an adult or student of more expertise (Piaget, 1928). Instead, students should be paired with others who have different perspectives. Conflicts would then take place between students allowing them to think constructively at a higher level.

Technical scaffolding is a newer approach in which computers replace the teachers as the experts or guides, and students can be guided with web links, online tutorials, or help pages (Yelland and Masters, 2007). Educational software can help students follow a clear structure and allows students to plan properly (Lai and Law, 2006).

Directive and supportive scaffolding
Silliman and Wilkinson (1994) distinguish two types of scaffolding: 'supportive scaffolding' that characterises the IRF (Initiation-Response-Follow-up) pattern; and 'directive scaffolding' that refers to IRE (Initiation-Response-Evaluation). Saxena (2010) develops these two notions theoretically by incorporating Bhaktin's (1981) and vanLier's (1996) works. Within the IRE pattern, teachers provide 'directive scaffolding' on the assumption that their job is to transmit knowledge and then assess its appropriation by the learners. The question-answer-evaluation sequence creates a predetermined standard for acceptable participation and induces passive learning. In this type of interaction, the teacher holds the right to evaluate and asks 'known-information' questions which emphasise the reproduction of information. The nature and role of the triadic dialogue have been oversimplified and the potential for the roles of teachers and students in them has been undermined (Nassaji and Wells, 2000).

If, in managing the talk, teachers apply 'constructive power' (Saxena, 2009) and exploit students' responses as occasions for joint exploration, rather than simply evaluating them, then the classroom talk becomes dialogic (Nystrand, 1997). The pedagogic orientation of this talk becomes 'participation orientation', in contrast to 'display/assessment orientation' of IRE (van Lier, 1996). In this kind of pattern of interaction, the third part of the triadic dialogue offers 'follow-up' and teachers' scaffolding becomes 'supportive'. Rather than producing 'authoritative discourse' Bakhtin's (1981), teachers constructs 'internally persuasive discourse' that allows 'equality' and 'symmetry' (van Lier, 1996:175), wherein the issues of power, control, institutional managerial positioning, etc. are diffused or suspended. The discourse opens up the roles for students as the 'primary knower' and the 'sequence initiator' (Nassaji and Wells, 2000), which allows them to be the negotiator and co-constructor of meaning. The suspension of asymmetry in the talk represents a shift in the teacher's ideological stance and, therefore, demonstrates that supportive scaffolding is more than simply a model of instruction (Saxena, 2010: 167).