Bruner's Theory of Structure Lecture (2023)

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This chapter introduces a third theory based on constructivism:Bruner's scaffolding conceptas a way of approaching learning and development. Explain the origins of Bruner's ideas in childhood observation and their connections with Vygotsky's theory and define what scaffolding means. The chapter then showshow scaffolding is applied to educationin various contexts. Examples are provided to illustrate how the theory works in practice. Thestrengths and limitations of this theoryare explored, along with a discussion of why this theory has proved so popular in so many different contexts. There are thought suggestions that focus on key points and help you to relate this material to your own knowledge and experience. This theory is used extensively at all levels of education, so the reflective sections are a very useful way to apply it to your own teaching and learning and to think about the ways in which this theory can help you plan lessons and teach classes. where there are likely to be students at different stages of development and with different skill levels.

Learning objectives for this chapter

At the end of this chapter, you should be able to:

  • clearly understand and explain what scaffolding means, using appropriate specialist terminology
  • clearly understand and explain how it relates to Vygotsky's earlier theories
  • explain how this theory applies to education
  • critically evaluate and discuss the strengths and limitations of this theory
  • relate this theory to educational practice

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What is Bruner's scaffolding theory?

Jerome Bruner (1915-2016) was an American psychologist of Jewish descent who had a long and distinguished teaching career at Harvard, Oxford, and New York universities. Bruner was interested in the way children construct their worldview, incorporating new elements into already acquired areas of knowledge. The first use of the term "scaffolding" is made in relation to early childhood. As a psychologist interested in early childhood development, he observed mothers interacting with their infants and explained the mother's role as follows: "In these cases, mothers more often see their role as helping the child achieve the desired outcome, just stepping in to help or reciprocate or 'store' the action" (Bruner, 1975, p. 12).

The metaphor of the gallows is intended to be active. The key point to keep in mind here is that the adult responds to the child, and scaffolding is a reciprocal process in which both parties are involved. Bruner's first observation refers to the period before language development and shows how the mother's involvement with the baby promotes babbling and the formation of sounds that will eventually lead to words and then to full language capacity (Schaffer et al. Kipp, 2014, p. 343). Bruner's thinking is based on Vygotsky's idea that children learn through social interaction and especially through interactions with others who are at a higher level of development and/or with more knowledge. In the previous chapter we saw howVygotsky's zone of proximal developmentwas used as a way to describe interactive events that encourage students to achieve new things with the help of others. Bruner concentrated on exactly how this more informed other imparts his growing knowledge and competence to a student and how the student responds to this new knowledge, gradually developing more and more understanding, with the help of the more informed other.

In a later paper (Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976), the idea of ​​scaffolding was further elaborated in relation to adult instruction of a child in an explicit learning context, whether at home or at school. In this context, the adult provides scaffolding "that enables a child or novice to solve a problem, accomplish a task, or achieve a goal that would be beyond their efforts without help" (Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976, p. 90). . 🇧🇷 An important part of this process is the student's mental assessment of what the task is, how it should be approached, what types of steps should be taken, and in what order the steps should be followed. In fact, this deeper understanding of what the task involves is more important to the child's development than the completion of the task itself. The child is learning not just how to do something, but how to think about something and plan his interaction with people, objects and ideas in relation to that task. This involves quite complex cognitive processes, such as paying attention to some aspects more than others, focusing on an end goal, eliminating elements of the child's thinking or behavior that are irrelevant or unhelpful to task completion, and dealing with any setbacks that may arise. . 🇧🇷 occur due to inexperience or emotions such as frustration, boredom, anxiety, etc.

The adult or more experienced person uses language to state the objective and discuss it with the student, making sure the student understands what the objective of the activity is. A shared understanding is a necessary prerequisite for the scaffolding process to be effective, because this is the foundation upon which deeper learning is built. If the learner does not interact with the adult, or does not understand why the activity is being undertaken and what the likely outcome is, then opportunities for the learner to contribute to their own concept building and planning are lost, and the learner simply follows the instructions. instructions reactively. This may result in achievement of the immediate goal, but the deeper level cognitive and perceptual changes may not necessarily have taken place in the student's mind. Ideally, then, the learner and the more informed other should develop a shared understanding of a given task, and there should be a dialogue between them, discussing what should be done, and how and why certain steps should be followed.


Think about your high school. What was your favorite class? What was your least favorite class?

(Video) Bruner's Theory

Can you identify the role scaffolding played in each case? See if you can figure out what your teachers did well in their scaffolding efforts, what they did less well, and how they could have used scaffolding more effectively. Did you understand the tasks that were set? Did you have a shared goal with the teacher? If so, what exactly was that goal? If not, why not?

Also reflect on your own contribution to the learning process in these two cases. Write how you felt about each lesson and how those feelings affected your learning. Write down the ideas you get from this reflection that may be useful to you in your future career as a teacher.

Bruner's scaffolding theory requires the adult to provide assistance carefully calibrated to the changing needs of the learner. A problem is posed that involves both the use of knowledge that the student already has and the mastery of some new material that the student has not encountered before, or has not yet mastered in terms of knowledge and skills. The adult's role is to judge the type of assistance each student needs and then provide enough assistance to help the student move to the next stage of the assignment. It is much better for the child to figure things out for himself, so the adult should hold back and let the child try out his own ideas first. If the child has reached the limit of his own ideas, the adult teacher intervenes with specific help.

Adult assistance can take different forms, including the following six specific types:

  • Recruitment of the child's interest.
  • Reduce a few degrees of freedom
  • Maintain goal orientation
  • Highlight typical characteristics of tasks
  • controlling frustration
  • Proof of idealized solution paths

There is no right or wrong way to request this type of assistance and there is no fixed ratio of each: every situation is different and the adult will use experience and frequent discussions with the child or children to determine what is needed in an certain moment. one moment.


Imagine that you are the leader of a scout troop. The children (ages nine) are investigating insect life in a local area of ​​wasteland and recording what they find. They can be quite boisterous at times and don't always pay close attention to instructions. The objective of the activity is to obtain a seal in environmental preservation. Badge requirements include mastery of some basic science skills (observation and classification), some numeracy skills (counting what they find), and some literacy skills (writing insect names and describing habitat).

Describe how you would reinforce their learning by offering each of the six types of assistance listed above. This description could include assistance in preparing for the fieldwork, assistance during the fieldwork and later when the children are writing what they found. What would you do to ensure your care is properly calibrated to each child's needs?

How is scaffolding applied to education?

Bruner's scaffolding theory begins with the assumption that there is an asymmetric relationship at the center of learning. The parent, teacher, or facilitator has more knowledge than the learner and seeks to impart that knowledge through various strategies. Some of these strategies may be unconscious, as everyday conversations often produce situations in which one person struggles to share knowledge with another person. This might involve explaining the meaning of unusual words, simplifying the language used, or demonstrating something through gestures and facial expressions. Those who live or work with children will naturally develop skills in this area, simplifying their language, breaking down tasks and explaining things as they go along.

In the field of education, however, scaffolding takes on a more formal meaning because it is related to the need to ensure that students progress towards officially defined learning objectives. In a later book (Bruner, 1986), there is further discussion of the teacher's role in guiding students through a new task. The context of a teacher helping children to build a pyramid with interlocking bricks is described. The teacher was able to serve as a "vicarious conscience" for the children (Bruner, 1986, p. 76). This term means "a temporary intellectual support provided by a teacher to bring the student to a higher level of understanding... [seems] to assume a prior understanding of problem solving, or a conception of the ideal outcome of a task on the part of the student ." of the person who provides the 'scaffolding'", (Fernández, Wegerif, Mercer and Rojas-Drummond, 2001, p. 41). The teacher could make elements of his adult consciousness available to the more limited consciousness of children, controlling the focus of attention and turning the task into a game. He maintained a narrative that explained what was going on and often dramatized elements of the task, showing very slowly and clearly how one step formed the basis for another. His language was deliberately chosen to match the language used by the children themselves, and the narrative style was chosen to recall the sequential nature of a story. Bruner (1986, p. 75) notes that "she had the monopoly on prediction" and it was her patient persistence that helped the boy to anticipate the task from start to finish. Without the structured help of the teacher, the child would not know where to start and could not imagine a course of action that would lead to the completion of the task. The boy would have I was just going to give up. Interestingly, when the task of teaching younger children to build a pyramid was given to older children, they used very similar strategies, but with one important difference: the teacher gradually withdrew her support and encouraged the student to take on more and more responsibility. . task responsibility. homework while younger tutors did not allow students to do this. They continued to show the boy what to do, even though the boy had mastered many of the necessary steps.

Teaching by demonstration is a common strategy, especially in subjects such as science where technical proficiency is required. However, it is not the same as scaffolding, because it is controlled by the teacher according to the teacher's own fixed plan. The scaffold has to adapt as the student progresses so that the student can eventually complete the task unaided. Scaffolding is not just a matter of offering standardized help to students as they engage in assignments and problem solving. The role of the teacher or facilitator is crucial and must constantly adapt to the student's needs, so that the student takes on more and more responsibilities and the teacher gradually takes a backseat. Some students will need much more help than others, and there will be variations in the type of help they need, because each student is at a different stage of development and has a different range of skills and knowledge that they can draw on when carrying out a task.


A student in a Bachelor of Nursing program must learn both theory and practice in a variety of common procedures, such as taking a patient's temperature and blood pressure, administering injections, and recording important vital data on a paper or digital system. Some of these tasks can be learned in the classroom, but others must be performed in a clinical setting.

New students will start with non-intrusive tasks. They can measure temperature and blood pressure, for example, and record the results. Learning to give injections is more difficult. It may involve, first of all, learning about theory related to the anatomy and physical properties of arteries and veins, the different layers of skin and fat, etc. The student can then be encouraged to learn injection technique using an orange, to learn how to manipulate the syringe and apply the correct amount of pressure. Through frequent practice, the student gains confidence in using the equipment, and all of this can be done in the classroom. The tutor will verify that all students have mastered the theory and technique before allowing the class to inject humans. However, when it comes to dealing with real patients, there are other aspects of this task that are quite daunting for beginners.

(Video) Bruner's Theory of Cognitive Development - Simplest Explanation Ever

The task is complex and the student will need to communicate with the patient, overcome their own nerves and strictly observe all safety precautions regarding body fluids and infections. There is a lot to remember in a very short time and there are potentially serious consequences if mistakes are made. In this learning context, there is often a more experienced professional alongside the apprentice during these first challenging stages. The role of the qualified professional is to encourage and advise, and to intervene if necessary to help with any problems or prevent impending setbacks. Students will also be encouraged to share their experiences with each other after the event and talk to each other, again in the presence of a professional guide, so that ideas can be collected to improve their knowledge, skills and confidence. the students. Nursing students must reach these milestones by overcoming their own fears, shortcomings, and lack of knowledge. The scaffolding in this example comes from the way in which the new material is classified by difficulty and risk, and by the presence of the professional, guiding and helping until the student is able to perform the task safely, without any assistance.

There's a good reason so many professional courses use scaffolding: it provides individual support and reassurance for people venturing into new areas where there is an element of risk and often an inability to anticipate what might happen. Guidance from an experienced person encourages the student to progress to the necessary levels of proficiency while providing somesafeguardof vulnerable customers or patients and some protection of corporate interests.


Are there specific areas of teaching where you think you could benefit from scaffold-based learning? Is this type of learning provided at your college, university or place of work? If yes, where? If not, how could you find that support? Note: Learning about teaching can happen anywhere, and many people have more experience than you in specific areas. Make a plan to seek advice and support from someone with experience that you can benefit from.

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What are the strengths and limitations of this theory?

This theory provides a very good insight into how the student's mind works, and the scaffolding metaphor helps teachers understand the basic principle of constructivism, namely the idea that students should construct their own knowledge, piece by piece. , and that teachers can help. in this process, offering structural support for the child's own learning. It is the student who is doing most of the work in this process, and the teacher should encourage students to figure things out for themselves rather than offering too much pre-packaged information or advice. Intervening and offering help in the short term should be a means of allowing the child to be more independent in the long term.

This idea has had great influence on many subjects and levels (Mercer, 1994, p. 96). In second language teaching, for example, where interaction between speakers is a key element of classroom activity, there is ample opportunity for teachers to encourage and support learning through timely interventions and well-chosen stimuli. Some speakers need help with pronunciation, while others may struggle with new vocabulary or grammar interference from another language. Teachers can tailor their feedback to each child, based on their specific experience and knowledge or gaps in their skills. Dual language materials can be used, either by rephrasing difficult constructions to make sense for a larger group of children, or exercises that encourage repetition, speaking or singing in unison, for example.

There is much literature available regarding internships and professional/clinical training, in which the intern is given a series of graded objectives and works closely with experts in the chosen field. Scaffolding is a useful concept for teacher education because it encourages them to think about the roles they play, the needs of students and how those needs change over time, and the many ways in which language can be used. in classroom interactions to establish shared interactions goals, check for understanding, encourage children to focus, and structure their learning to achieve these goals.

The concept of scaffolding has been very usefully applied to peer learning and computer learning contexts, although of course there are some necessary limitations in these contexts, such as reduced competence on the part of teachers and ability to adapt to change. software and learning devices. The academic debate about what constitutes scaffolding and what is just an ordinary student aid has helped to clarify and categorize different elements in the teaching and learning process, and has stimulated further research and experimentation to improve theory and pedagogical techniques. A research paper examining children's language learning together without teacher assistance notes that the concept of scaffolding can be expanded to include group learning in which "language is used dynamically and dialogically to maintain and develop a shared understanding " (Fernández et al., 2001, pg. 53). It's debatable whether this still qualifies as scaffolding, but the whole idea of ​​scaffolding has clearly influenced this line of research and provided some core concepts that have value for other theories as well.

However, there are some drawbacks to this theory, such as the practical difficulty that arises when trying to implement it in a busy classroom where there are many children and the teacher cannot follow each child's progress in detail all the time. Olson (2007, p. 47) notes that in whole-class teaching “such tight control is virtually impossible and teachers need to monitor general signs of misunderstanding, for example by observing students' manners and adjusting teaching accordingly. " Bruner's scaffolding principle remains the same in a large, crowded classroom, but it demands a lot from teachers if applied effectively. Teachers need to work out strategies for working in groups, pairs, and individually so that they have at least some opportunity to structure their teaching.

There is also some contradiction between this theory and theories that see the child as a "lone agent ruling the world on its own" (Bruner, 1986, p. 75). Many educators believe in letting children experience it for themselves rather than relying on teachers or others to show them what to learn and how to learn it. It would clearly be inappropriate to use scaffolding all the time, as children enjoy a more exploratory type of learning and develop many cognitive skills in an unstructured way through play and open discussion on a wide range of topics. Therefore, scaffolding cannot be universally applied as a teaching approach in all contexts. It lends itself to some contexts better than others.


How useful do you find Bruner's ideas about scaffolding? Has this chapter changed your view of teaching in any way?

Try entering the terms 'Bruner' and 'scaffolding' into Google or an academic database like JSTOR or Google Scholar. List all educational contexts in which the authors advocated the use of scaffolding. See if you can find the reasons why this theory is so popular and the reasons why so many researchers want to modify or expand on it.

(Video) Jerome Bruner's Learning Theory | Lesson-25 | for CTET, DSSSB, KVS, UP-TET-2019

How can this theory be linked to practice?

One of the implications of scaffolding is that the teacher must have a thorough understanding of the subject being taught, including the various steps that contribute to mastery of knowledge and complex tasks. Superficial knowledge of a subject is not enough to provide the support that different children may need. There may be different ways of doing things, and an experienced teacher can provide alternatives for a student who is having difficulty mastering a particular approach. Sometimes you need a creative suggestion, for example an improvised drawing, to illustrate how two parts fit together in an experiment, or a recommendation to look up a relevant reference book for more information, or advice like: "go and ask Sharon, as she's really good at it." The nature of the advice will change according to the student's individual needs, the context in which learning takes place, and the range of aids and resources available to support learning. A good teacher will use a wide range of tools and strategies to help students develop their own problem-solving skills.

The teacher also needs to know about cognitive development and be able to ask questions that reveal what the student has understood so far and what is still in the learning process. It often takes considerable time to get this information out of students, using appropriate language at the right level to match the child's developmental stage, and watching for signs that the student is struggling, or just coping well with the task. 🇧🇷

Scaffolding can be linked to many different aspects of teaching practice. It can include establishing routines in the classroom so that newcomers can quickly understand what is going on in their day-to-day lives. There could be displays on the wall with relevant material, such as keywords and pictures, or letters and numbers, and the room could be arranged so that students can search for more information, for example in the book corner. Another useful technique is to prepare group assignments that require students to discuss what they are doing. The teacher can then move from one group to another and offer advice and feedback to encourage them, help them accomplish their assigned task, or solve any problems they may not have been able to solve on their own.

One of the most important things for teachers to remember is that it is not just a rigid structure designed to span an entire class, but an adaptive support that requires the teacher to diagnose student progress at regular intervals and, if necessary, adapt the support to match the stage the student has reached. In other words, scaffolding should be viewed as an ongoing activity that may require different input from the teacher for each student or different input for the same student as he moves toward the goal. The teacher should make it clear that all students have valuable knowledge and skills to contribute and everyone should be a part of the discussions.


Alan is a high school English teacher in charge of an A-Level English class. His students are a mixed group, consisting of some very able students who want to study English at university, some who have achieved only average GCSE grades and some who they like science more, but they don't have much interest in Language and Literature. He is teaching about Shakespeare's sonnets, and the class is reading some examples and studying the sonnet form. As part of this assignment, each student took notes on the structure of a sonnet and developed an outline for the necessary rhyme scheme.

Alan divides the class into groups of four and asks each group to write a sonnet. Students are assigned to each group by the teacher to ensure a mix of skills in each group, and this should ensure that a variety of skills are distributed across all groups. A double period is allotted for planning, followed by two days for reflection at home, and an additional double period is allotted for finishing the sonnet. This long period of time is necessary because you want students to talk about what they are doing and discuss different options.

Students work in their groups and Alan walks from group to group, asking what they've done so far and why. One group finished quickly, so he praised them for their quick work and encouraged them to improve their sonnet further, or write another one on a different subject, to see if they could do a sonnet in a more contemporary style. Another group was "stuck" so he suggested they look at a sonnet from his book and take a closer look at it. He helped them come up with a simple rhyme scheme with a few fun words, and that scaffolding allowed them to build their sonnet around the rhymes. At the end of the class there was a discussion of what makes a good sonnet and why this verse form is so popular in English literature.

In most schools, children come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, and there are often students at different stages of development. A variety of other adults can be involved in the classroom, including teaching assistants, parents, volunteers, English language specialists, community members, and SEN staff who provide special needs support, whether individually for a single student. of time, or several children in shorter sessions. These additional adults are invaluable because they can provide more opportunities for scaffolding.


Imagine that you are an elementary school teacher in an inner city that has a mixed ethnic population and some social and economic hardship. You have a class of 26 children and you have been asked to tell the principal what you would like other adults to contribute to your teaching. The budget is limited, so you have been asked to suggest a mix of paid and unpaid contributions.

In light of Bruner's scaffolding theory, what would you ask for? How would you ensure that other adults provide the right kind of input to encourage deeper learning? Would these other adults need to be qualified in some way? What could you do to maximize your impact on children's learning?

(Video) Jerome Bruner's Theory of Learning - LearnEducation Files

Think of non-teaching staff in and around schools, such as secretaries, janitors, lunch and break supervisors, traffic patrol, etc. What kind of contributions do they make in this area?


This chapter introduced the concept of scaffolding. He explained the origins of this concept in Bruner's observation of mothers and children and their connections with Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development. A key element in the theory is the metaphor of a temporary structure that is created to help accomplish a specific task. Once the task is completed, the framework is no longer needed. A teacher should plan so that the amount of scaffolding varies in response to student need.

It is important to emphasize, however, that what is being structured is much more than the simple execution of a task, it is the gradual development of the student's mental processes. The student is encouraged to think and talk about how to approach the task, how to break it down into its constituent parts, and how to sequence activities so that the task is completed successfully. Having learned these cognitive skills, the student will be able to perform similar tasks and even more complex tasks, with less and less need for support from another person. This is an extremely useful concept that can be applied to many different learning contexts. If used correctly, it is very demanding of the teacher, but it produces good results because it helps students to develop the ability to think independently.


When you have finished reading this chapter and thinking about the questions raised in the examples and reflection sections, you should

  • understand what Bruner's concept of 'scaffolding' means in the context of education
  • understand the origins of this theory in Vygotsky's work
  • be able to use technical terminology associated with this theory, such as asymmetric learning, learner needs-based calibration, and vicarious awareness
  • relate this theory to educational practice at different levels, from childhood to adulthood, and be able to outline some of its strengths and limitations.

You should now reflect on what this theory means to you and complete the 'practical scenario' at the end of this chapter.

reference list

Bruner, J. S. (1975) From communication to language: a psychological perspective.cognition 3, p. 811-132.

Bruner, JS (1986)Real minds: possible words.Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Fernandez, M., Wegerif, R., Mercer, N. & Rojas-Drummond, S. (2001) Reconceptualizing 'scaffolding' and the zone of proximal development in the context of symmetrical collaboration.Classroom Interaction Diary 36(2), pp. 40-54.

Mercer, N. (1994) Neovygotskian theory and classroom education. In B. Stierer and J. Maybin (Eds.),Language, literacy and learning in educational practice.Clevedon: Multilingual Matters/The Open University, págs. 92-110.

Olson, Dominican Republic (2007)Jerome Bruner.Londres: Bloomsbury.

Schaffer, D. R. e Kipp, K. (2014)Developmental Psychology: Childhood and Adolescence🇧🇷 🇧🇷 🇧🇷 🇧🇷 Ninth edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning

Wood, D., Bruner, J. S., & Ross, G. (1976) The role of mentoring in problem solving.Journal of Child Psychiatry and Psychology 17, p. 89-100.


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