Another dot in the blogosphere?

Scaffold or crutch?

Posted on: March 6, 2017

As I grade and provide feedback on essays by future faculty, my mind wanders to something I wrote over scattered reflections: A scaffold can easily become a crutch.

In education, a scaffold is meant to help a novice bridge a cognitive gap they otherwise would not be able to cross on their own. Examples of scaffolds include guiding questions, headers or sections in essays, prompts from interactive tools, timely or contextualised links to resources, etc.

Like a scaffold around a building, scaffolds must be removed because they have served their purpose and are unsightly.

The same could be said about educational scaffolds. However, they tend to remain because teachers might find them convenient and learners become dependent on them. When this happens, the scaffolds become crutches because neither teacher nor student learns to stand on their own.

At the moment, I see crutches in the form of lesson patterns and essay starters. These are not necessary given the context: The learners are advanced, their backgrounds are so diverse as to make the standard approach meaningless, and the scaffolds themselves are not well-designed.

The scaffolds have become crutches because learners follow them instead of learning to think independently or because they fear making mistakes. Such unintended consequences might be the worst outcomes of relying unnecessarily on scaffolds.

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