Scaffolding for Brain Development

The following is a reflective writing assignment for my class “Teaching Adults with the Brain in Mind (PIDP 3300)” at Vancouver Community College.

A human brain has about 100 Billion neurons. We can compare these neurons with web pages on the internet. The brain forms connections called synapses between neurons. We can compare this with internet hyperlinks. While the internet has over 100 Trillion links, an adult’s brain has 300 Trillion links (Studio, 2012).

From before we are born we are creating these connections in our brains – we learn. Anything new we learn is based on and connected to things we learned before. (Marienau, 2016).


As instructors, our job is to help our students bridge the gap between what they already know to what we want them to know in order to achieve the learning objectives we set out. In her video, Janice from the Smart Cookie video below calls this the “Zone of Proximal Development” (Sharp Cookie, 2020). To bridge this gap we can use “Scaffolding”. Like when constructing buildings, scaffolding is used as a temporary aid to help us build something; in this case knowledge.


Throughout my PIDP journey, the concept of scaffolding has come up repeatedly and I am using this opportunity to explore this concept further. As Kathleen Taylor and Catherine Marieneau point out in the textbook (Marienau, 2016), it is important to find the right balance between triggering curiosity in our students and overwhelming them. As the teacher we have to ask ourselves “What is the minimum amount of intervention needed to bring your learner from point A to point B”. Because we don’t want to do everything for them if that is not necessary. (Sharp Cookie, 2020)


As a first step, we need to determine what the learners already know and how much guidance we need to give to accomplish the learning outcomes. Some examples of these scaffolding techniques are (Grand Canyon University, 2022):


We can model the skill we want our learners to learn. We often use this in trades education. We show the skill, break it down into individual actions and then let the students copy what we showed and practice the skill until they have mastered it.

Use prior knowledge

Especially in adult education, our students already come with a significant amount of experiences and knowledge we can build on. Sometimes we might have to refresh this knowledge or fill some gaps that some students might have. But we can find connections to build on.

Talk about it

Giving students the time to absorb what they learned and then talk about it with the other students in the class is a helpful tool to solidify the new material.

Show what you mean

While the article (Grand Canyon University, 2022) mentions graphic organizers like Venn diagrams. I would count “step-by-step instructions” in the same category. We use these instructions to transfer skills learned in the classroom to hands-on projects in the shop. The instructions include diagrams and photos and we try to have sample elements on hand to explain sections of the project.

Use Technology

The switch to online classrooms has made providing online resources a lot more seamless and easy. There is a wealth of information on the internet and we can help our students discover helpful content by providing lists of websites and video playlists.

I also let students use certain apps on their phones to find answers to questions I pose in class.


Above I have listed only a few of the many possibilities to build scaffolds for our learners. After what I learned about brain development and scaffolding I will be much more conscious in selecting ways to guide my students to the goal of reaching the learning goals of each unit. I realize that I and most other instructors in trades programs already use a lot of scaffolding techniques, but I will be more conscious of my choices to choose the right tool for each instance.

One factor that is new to me is the goal to find the “minimum amount of intervention” needed (Sharp Cookie, 2020). For this, I will put more emphasis on a pre-assessment of previous knowledge in my students. Once I have found this baseline I can design the appropriate scaffolding measures.

After the learning goal is reached it is necessary to “remove the scaffolding” (Marienau, 2016) so that the students can use their new skill without help. The formative or summative assessments at the end of the unit will show the students that they mastered the new skills without help.


Brian R Belland, A. E. (2017, April). Synthesizing Results From Empirical Research on Computer-Based Scaffolding in STEM Education: A Meta-Analysis. Retrieved from National Library of Medicine:

Frances E. Jensen, M. (2015, May 3). The Teenage Brain: Scaffolding the Brain for Lifelong Learning. Retrieved from

Grand Canyon University. (2022, February 23). What Is Scaffolding in Education? Retrieved from

Marienau, T. &. (2016). Facilitating Learning with the Adult Brain in Mind. San Francisco: John Whiley & Sons.

Prodigy. (2020, September 9). 6 Proven Strategies for Scaffolding in Education and 8 Benefits for Learning. Retrieved from

Sharp Cookie. (2020, October 23). Zone of Proximal Development and Scaffolding EXPLAINED! Retrieved from YouTube:

Studio, T. S. (2012, November 12). BRAIN POWER: From Neurons to Networks. Retrieved from YouTube:

Teachings in Education. (2020, November 23). Scaffolding Instruction for Students. Retrieved from YouTube:

Technology Networks. (2020, July 7). How Microglia Chomp Paths Through the Brain’s Scaffolding To Promote Plasticity. Retrieved from

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