Does scaffolding make them fall? Reflecting on strategies for developing causal argument in Years 8 and 11


By Jennifer Evans and Gemma Pate, published 31st August 2007

Jennifer Evans and Gemma Pate, history teachers in two Essex schools, had noticed that sometimes a writing frame did the opposite of what was intended. Sometimes a card sort fostered rich discussion and ownership; sometimes it led the students down a reductive rather than mind-opening path. Sometimes modelling of paragraphs helped; sometimes it took students backwards. What was going on? Can scaffolding be self-defeating? Does a scaffold help or hinder? Evans and Pate set out to answer these questions through reflective action research. They do not offer simple answers. They conclude that all these scaffolding tools have their place and some remain indispensable but that the teacher’s role in using them is infinitely complex and demanding. Only a constantly watchful, analytic eye and ear on what is really going in pupils’ learning will foster good decisions about when to scaffold and when to withdraw, what scaffold to use, when to intervene and when to back off. Above, all, enabling students to find their own meaning is at the heart of good decision-making about scaffolding. Evans and Pate argue that more often than not, our quickness to seek an outcome or to secure ‘performance’ pushes us into an inappropriate or quickfix scaffold, and so diminishes students’ independent thinking and enduring learning. Based on an ambitious action research project, this article models an approach to reflection on practice, particularly where writing extended causal argument is concerned.

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