Scaffolding: Defining the Metaphor

Nancy Boblett


Scaffolding embodies much of the activity that goes on in classroom teaching and teacher-learner interaction. As the metaphor of scaffolding has become popularized, it has often been adopted as a general term that is used to describe all types of support and guidance offered in the classroom. Due to its popularization, scaffolding has become difficult to define, and perhaps even unbounded from its theoretical underpinnings (Palincsar, 1988). This paper revisits the concept of scaffolding by (1) introducing its origin and connection to sociocultural theory, (2) reviewing some of the empirical and pedagogical endeavors that expanded the definition over the last forty years, and (3) considering its current application to the language classroom. It concludes with suggestions regarding some directions for future research on the role of scaffolding in the field of second language teaching and learning.

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