Scaffolding – Is This the Right Metaphor or Framework?

Green scaffolding

Recently I have been thinking about scaffolding and this approach to teaching and learning in regards to creative processes.

Is scaffolding the right metaphor and even approach?

Scaffolding is a widely used metaphor for an approach to the practice of teaching and learning. As an approach to education it focuses on supporting the learner to develop an independent competency in their own unique manner and then, as those competencies develop, this support is gradually removed. The analogy is to architecture where scaffolding is necessary during construction and then removed when things can stand on their own two feet so to speak. Scaffolding in education is an important alternative to models like knowledge transfer which frames education as an inputting of the requisite knowledge. Such transfer models are problematically expert centered, assume knowledge as a discreet thing to be mastered, and that the expert is always necessary, etc.

But, and here is the problem: to be human is to be always "scaffolded" and extended. We are inherently extended/scaffolded by a nearly infinite number of tools, practices, customs, environments, etc. And we are not only scaffolded via such extensions, we are equally permanently scaffolded by our co-constructed intra-subjective environments. We never “stand on our own two feet” so to speak – we “stand” as permanently and complexly embodied, embedded and extended beings who are always in the midst of collectively making and remaking their extended beings.

Now the critique of knowledge transfer models of education are not wrong, nor is the aspiration to develop approaches to education that build competency and agency separate from the system of learning. But, to frame learning and being human in relation to a scaffolding that falls away and then we “stand on our own” – is to turn our attention away from what it is to be human. We don’t stand on our own – we don’t exist on our own and we are very much types of hybrid scaffolded beings. Our aspirations should not be to remove all that makes us for the sake of an illusion (standing on our own), but to work with others – including more than human others – tools, habits, customs, critters, infrastructure, environments to experimentally co-shape new extended and entangled dynamic worlds. And in this the scaffolding will change but not fall away… (and even here the concept is not an ideal fit…)

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