Bruner (1978) describes scaffolding in the metaphorical sense as “the steps taken to reduce the degrees of freedom in carrying out some tasks so that the child can concentrate on the difficult skill she is in the process of acquiring”.
In the classroom it entails the teacher´s assistance in supporting learners to carry out tasks successfully.
Scaffolding, however, does not only involve help. It is a special kind of support that assists learners in acquiring new skills, concepts, or levels of understanding. Scaffolding is thus the temporary assistance by which a teacher helps a learner know how to do something so that the learner will later be able to complete a similar task alone. It is future-oriented and aimed at increasing a learner’s autonomy. As Vygotsky has said, what a child can do with support today, she or he can do alone tomorrow.
For FL students, a high-challenge, high-support classroom implies a very different orientation to learning tasks posed by direct methods. As experience teachers know and as common educational sense suggests, children need to be engaged with authentic and cognitively challenging learning tasks. This means that rather than simplifying the task, we should instead reflect on the nature of the scaffolding that is being provided for learners to carry out that task.
From a competent communicative perspective, the learning of a FL occurs in a spiral in which learners have to apply new knowledge and move backwards to recall existing one constantly. According to Mehisto, Marsh and Frigols (2008), scaffolding involves building on students´ existing knowledge, skills, attitudes, interests and experience; repackaging information in user-friendly ways; responding to different learning styles, fostering creative and critical thinking; and challenging students to take another step forward and not just to coast in comfort.