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Scaffolding learning as a teaching strategy was first introduced by the sociological theory of Lev Vygotsky and his zone of proximal development (ZPD) concept. As Raymond puts it, ZPD is "the distance between what children can do by themselves and the next learning that they can be helped to achieve with competent assistance" (Raymond, 2000, p.176). In this strategy, a more knowledgeable individual like the teacher provides support to the learner to facilitate his development. This helps the student develop the ability to build on the knowledge he has and internalize any the new information he comes across with. It therefore stands that the activities provided in scaffolding are a little bit beyond the level at which the learner can do things by himself. The more knowledgeable individual therefore provides support to the student so that he can be able to accomplish that specific task that he could not accomplish on his own. Scaffolding is described by Vygotsky as the role of knowledgeable people like teachers and others to support the development of learners by providing them with support structures to get the next level.
An important feature with scaffolding is that the support given is temporary and as the abilities of the learner increases the support provided by the more knowledgeable party is slowly reduced. Finally the student will be able to accomplish the task by himself. The goal of the educator is therefore to ensure that the student becomes a self regulated learner who is independent and able to solve problems by himself. As the learner gains knowledge and becomes more knowledgeable, the educator reduces the amount of support he normally provides and ones the learner has fully developed his skills, the external support can even be totally removed. In the educational setting, the support provided by teachers might include prompts, hints, cues, direct instructions, think aloud model, and partial solutions. For instance when trying to teach students the mathematical skill of rounding, the teacher might begin by providing the steps to be followed. For example, rounding hundreds begins by looking at the number that exists in the ten's position. This will therefore provide a hint to the students and prompt them to complete the following step of the task at hand (Raymond, 2000, p. 178).
Questions might also be used by teachers to provide support to students in solving a problem. As time goes, teachers may increase the level of specificity until that point when the student is capable of providing the best response. According to Walker (2005), the number of questions asked and their intrusive nature will be reduced as the student develops his ability to apply the rules of answering these questions until he can be able to tackle the task without any more prompts (p. 157). Successful scaffolding demands that teachers are able to provide continuity in the classrooms. This is because they will be able to provide various tasks that are repeated and interconnected to each other and the education curriculum for that matter. Secondly, the support should be provided from context. Teachers should encourage students to explore various topics in a learning environment that is freely from risks and full of a variety of ways to meet the learning objectives. This will enable students to become more creative and therefore learn faster.
The greatest benefit of scaffolding is that it engages students in the learning process. The student does not passively listen to the kind of information presented but instead he uses the assistance provided by the teacher to build on prior knowledge that he possesses to form knew knowledge. For students who have learning disabilities and low self esteem, scaffolding provides an opportunity to the teachers to give the students positive feedback that encourages believing in themselves. For instance if you say "this is great, it is actually what the question is asking for!" the student will feel motivated and gain courage to tackle the task. Scaffolding therefore also motivates the students to want to learn more and this helps in improving his knowledge. Another important aspect of scaffolding is that it can minimize frustration levels in students. According to Bransford, Brown & Cocking (2000), this is a very important aspect especially for students with special needs who might become frustrated because of their disabilities and refuse to further participate in the learning process. Since scaffold is individualized, each learner is able to benefit from it.
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Despite the many advantages, the greatest disadvantage with scaffolding is that it requires that a teacher is well trained to implement the learning instructions or else effective learning wont be achieved. Moreover, it requires that teachers give up a bit of their control to allow students to make mistakes. This is a very difficult thing for a teacher to do (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000).
Differentiated instruction on the other hand is a teaching and learning philosophy that aims at designing instructions in away that benefits all students. It therefore deals with the different skills and abilities of each student. This strategy works on the basis that each student has hi sown preferences, needs and background. In order for these needs to be met by the educators, it is important that the instructions are differentiated. In the current time, there is a lot of diversity in classrooms with students from various cultures now studying together. These students have different capacities and rates of understanding which should be considered. In addition, there are many factors which affect student's diversity. These include socioeconomics, gender, family background, readiness, culture and ethics. Differentiated instructions is therefore requires that teachers respond to the learning needs of students by paying attention to the individual needs. It is important to take into account the differences in students and acknowledge and acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses. Attending to these differences ensures that each student experiences some degree of triumph and encourages them to be doing their best to be all that they can be (Walker, 2005, p. 158).
Addressing the vast differences and interests of students motivates them to learn but still encourages them to be staying positive about their weaknesses and difference. If you ignore these fundamental differences, it might lead to students losing motivation and falling behind or even failing to succeed at all. According to Tomlinson (2005), when the teacher ignores the differences among students and strives to complete the curriculum as fast as possible, motivated and advanced students might also become confused (p. 7). Students therefore learn effectively when the tasks the teachers give them are moderate: not simple and not too complex. Although students' interests vary, these interests can be effective tools to help in learning processes of a differentiated class. These are very powerful motivators that wise teachers can make use of. Differentiated instruction is well planned, well organized and does not only address the differences in the abilities of students but also takes into consideration their needs, strengths and interests. It allows a heterogeneous group of students to cooperate and follow instructions. The teachers are also able to create learning experience centered on students' abilities and focus on varied approaches to product, process and content. Moreover, it provides for an authentic assessment of the learning styles, skills and interest of students.
Research indicates that students can be more engaged and successful in schools when they are taught in a manner that is responsive to their interest, readiness level, and their learning profiles. Differentiated instruction recommends that teachers pay attention to these three characteristics for every student. Readiness is all about the students understanding, knowledge and skills related to a certain sequence of learning. It is normally influenced by the cognitive proficiency of the student, his life and learning experience and general attitude about school. More so, it varies over time and according to circumstances and topics. Student's interests arise from the kind of topic that evokes passion and curiosity in students. If this interest is well tapped, the student is most likely to engage in learning. Learning profile on the other hand is how best a student learns. Preferences to learn are shaped intelligence preference, learning style, culture and gender. All these are attended to in differentiated instruction (Tomlinson, 2005, P. 12).
The greatest challenge with differentiated instruction is that it requires so much planning time. Teachers use so much time to assess the needs, readiness level and interest of the learners; to organize questions and determine concepts: and to come up with appropriate learning activities for every learner. The management of the classroom by the teacher is also tasking since he has to pay attention to different needs of students from different backgrounds. For this to be fully achieved, the teacher will have to work extra hard. It is not an easy task to find learning materials that are relevant and meaningful to specific needs and interest of each student. It would be even more challenging to impellent differentiated instruction in a class with a large group of heterogeneous students (Walker, 2005, p. 157). Similarly, an individual teacher can not differentiate on her on; he requires the assistance of the classroom assistance or another teacher. Although the teacher might design lesson activities, the assistance of a student representative is required to keep the students as one group. If there are opposing groups among the students, the implementation of these would be somehow difficult or even impossible.
From the above discussion, it is evident that both scaffolding and differentiating are important strategies that can enhance great learning abilities in students. Scaffolding encourages students to use the little knowledge they might have together with the support from teachers to tackle various tasks and create better understanding of new knowledge. Similarly, differentiating enables students from various backgrounds and with vast abilities to learn together and use of their different strengths interest.