that they become more easily grasped, demonstrating their less obvious properties, and all along molding her body in such a way as to provide maximal physical support and access to the play materials (Schaffer, 1977:73).

In addition to the research showing how adults arrange the environment to promote children’s learning, a great deal of research has also been conducted on how adults guide children’s understanding of how to act in new situations through their emotional cues regarding the nature of the situation, nonverbal models of how to behave, verbal and nonverbal interpretations of events, and verbal labels to classify objects and events (Rogoff, 1990; Walden and Ogan, 1988). Parents frame their language and behavior in ways that facilitate learning by young children (Bruner, 1981a, b, 1983; Edwards, 1987; Hoff-Ginsberg and Shatz, 1982). For example, in the earliest months, the restrictions of parental baby talk to a small number of melodic contours may enable infants to abstract vocal prototypes (Papousek et al., 1985). Parental labeling of objects and categories may assist children in understanding category hierarchies and learning appropriate labels (Callanan, 1985; Mervis, 1984). Communication with caregivers to accomplish everyday goals is the groundwork for children’s early learning of the language and other cognitive tools of their community; see Box 4.5.

An extremely important role of caregivers involves efforts to help children connect new situations to more familiar ones. In our discussion of competent performance and transfer (see Chapter 3), we noted that knowledge appropriate to a particular situation is not necessarily accessed despite being relevant. Effective teachers help people of all ages make connections among different aspects of their knowledge.

Caregivers attempt to build on what children know and extend their competencies by providing supporting structures or scaffolds for the child’s performance (Wood et al., 1976). Scaffolding involves several activities and tasks, such as:

  • interesting the child in the task;

  • reducing the number of steps required to solve a problem by simplifying the task, so that a child can manage components of the process and recognize when a fit with task requirements is achieved;

  • maintaining the pursuit of the goal, through motivation of the child and direction of the activity;

  • marking critical features of discrepancies between what a child has produced and the ideal solution;

  • controlling frustration and risk in problem solving; and

  • demonstrating an idealized version of the act to be performed.

Scaffolding can be characterized as acting on a motto of “Where before there was a spectator, let there now be a participant” (Bruner, 1983:60).



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement