Last week, I attended a one day forum exploring intercultural education.

Near the end of the forum, during an informal panel discussion, an audience member asked a question about scaffolding—how might we better scaffold intercultural learning experiences in order to effect outcomes?

As the panel member began his answer, my mind drifted…

Specifically, I began to think about this particular pedagogical metaphor—scaffolding. It’s something I first heard about in graduate school, and it’s actually something that became a part of my dissertation and eventual job talk (the first time I was on the market).

It’s a metaphor that’s commonsensical; teachers create scaffolds for student learning in a variety of ways, from the readings they choose through the pacing of lesson plans and the presentation/discussion of appropriate models. Scaffolding helps students reach higher (metaphorically) than they could without them.

I started to wonder—what if we approached the metaphor a little more literally?

Let’s say that I’m painting a two story house. I’ll definitely need scaffolding of some kind to help me reach second story eves and trim and walls.


My point is this: scaffolding is not necessarily where I’ll start. Indeed, I’ll probably jump in and start prepping the first story. I might power wash the exterior walls, scrape peeling paint, take a wire brush to window trim badly in need of a thorough cleaning.

And then the taping! So much taping is involved in this job. Much of this necessary (really, crucial) prep work will be done without scaffolding (but maybe a step ladder at times).

There’s something to be said for not having scaffolding—or not putting such an emphasis on scaffolding right away—but valuing some immersive work at the ground level. How much can we do without scaffolds?

It’s been a good six or seven years since I was introduced to the metaphor of scaffolding, and it has shaped (and even clouded) my pedagogical practices. It’s seems healthy to think through our dominant metaphors from time to time, even if only during a daydream.


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