Volunteer management and “model-scaffold-fade”

Joe and I were talking last night about ways to train church volunteers. Joe has degrees in cognitive science and education, and teaches course in using technology in education, and he had some great ideas of how our church might train volunteers.

“Those are great ideas,” I said, taking notes, “but I’m going to come up against the classic problem in volunteer management, which is how to deliver training to busy volunteers. From the point of view of volunteer management in churches,” I went on, “the best thinking I know of on delivering training is to immerse your volunteer in their volunteer task, and then when they run into problems, to be easily available so that they can consult with you, and you can coach them.” One description of this process may be found in The Coming Church Revolution: Empowering Leaders for the Future by Carl George (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Fleming H. Revell, 1994), pp. 75 ff.*

“Oh,” said Joe, “you mean like model-scaffold-fade.”

“What’s that?” I said.

Joe explained that model-scaffold fade begins with the teacher modeling how to solve a given problem or complete a given task; then the teacher provides a kind of scaffold to support the learner while s/he works on solving the problem or completing the task; and then when the learner has mastered the material, the teacher fades away. Today I did a little more research on model-scaffold-fade, and after reading this online article discovered that it’s based on Vygotsky’s concept of the Zone of Proximal Development, and the way a “more-knowledgeable other” (MKO) can help the learner move beyond his or her current level of development.

Seems to me model-scaffold fade is a nice tool to add to my volunteer management toolkit. It also fits in nicely with one of Carl George’s observations: “Most churches would be more effective if they shifted from being orientation heavy to being supervision heavy” (p. 83). Both approaches allow adult volunteers to be self-directed learners who are in charge of their own learning; in fact, George’s approach to leadership development, where a new leader is apprenticed to an experienced leader (i.e., to an MKO), offers pretty much the same approach as the model-scaffold-fade approach — the latter is more explicit in offering effective instruction, while George’s approach is more explicit in how this can work in churches.

* Note that Carl George bases his approach on the work of educational theorist Malcolm Knowles; you can find Knowles’s book (American Society for Training and Development, 1973 / Houston, Texas: Gulf Publishing)The Adult Learner online.

4 thoughts on “Volunteer management and “model-scaffold-fade”

  1. Bill Baar

    Who’s job is it to train volunteers in a Church. So, who would you turn to in a Church and say go read Dan’s post on scaffolds?

    Which I suppose could be interpreted the wrong way.

  2. Elizabeth J. Barrett

    Fabulous! The model-scaffold-fade process is what some folks do with Covenant Group Ministry. Facilitators get a short training up front with modeling of how facilitation works, then they’re in their own groups, meeting with a minister and a coach monthly for ongoing support. Way back when I helped to start a Covenant Group Ministry program at my church, I read some of Carl George’s books.

    With committees, it is good to encourage new folks to join, then model how to chair, then after awhile ask someone who seems promising to consider becoming co-chair.

  3. Ms. M

    oh, so THAT’s what I do….now I know what to call it! Hey, we need to schedule some time together – and I want to schedule your guest lecture…bwahahaha

  4. Jean

    Ah, nice term for what we do as teachers. Interestingly enough, the most difficult stage for many students is the ‘fade’ stage. Even after they graduate, I get emails from students — “would you read my xxxx and give me some feedback” — that kind of thing. I have yet to come up with a polite way of saying “no.”

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