One of the most empowering and compassionate practices that we can integrate into our classrooms is scaffolding, an instructional strategy that provides students with a framework to guide and support their learning (Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976). Scaffolding involves breaking down complex tasks into smaller, more manageable steps, and providing assistance to students as they progress through each step. Scaffolding provides a structure that supports student growth, creates autonomous learners, and gives students more confidence in acquiring new skills (Dede & Sochacki, 2021).
Here are several ways to incorporate scaffolding into your teaching:
Break large assignments into several steps
Breaking up an assignment into smaller parts, with multiple due dates, for a gradual build is less likely to overwhelm students. Using a matrix that includes a timeline, due dates, goals, and requirements can help keep students organized and on track.
If your final assessment is a research paper, consider breaking it up into several drafts. Each draft would have its own due date and requirements but would build on one another to produce a final paper at the end of the term.
Incorporate visual aids
Visual aids help students represent their ideas, organize information, and grasp more complex concepts. Graphic organizers, mind maps, and other brainstorming techniques are effective scaffolding tools. Some students can dive right into discussing, writing an essay, or synthesizing several different hypotheses, but many students benefit from being able to outline and organize their thinking ahead of time.
Before beginning an assignment, have students record their brainstorming process using a mind map. Mind mapping encourages students to organize information and formulate a plan. This strategy also gives you the opportunity to provide feedback before students dive further into their work.
Model concepts and processes
Modeling or demonstrating is an effective way to show students how to approach the task or problem the correct way. Processes, behaviors, language—you can use modeling for anything! However, it’s important to show as well as explain exactly what is being done when you model for your students. After modeling, give your students time to practice and demonstrate what they have learned.
Try a fishbowl activity that gets students involved in the modeling process. Select a small group of students to help model a task or concept, such as a debate, while the rest of the class observes.
Provide clarity through rubrics and exemplars
Many students get frustrated and overwhelmed when expectations are not clearly defined and transparent. A rubric allows students to see exactly what is expected of them and how to be successful. In addition, sharing exemplary work from previous classes can help students envision their own work and spark new ideas.
Start by offering a simple checklist for the assignment so students have a clear picture of what needs to be completed. A checklist, like a rubric, encourages students to stay on track. You can later use the checklist to develop a more robust rubric.
If you are interested in scaffolding your assignments and would like help getting started, complete this consultation request form. The LSA Learning and Teaching Consultants are always happy to help.
Dede, M. & Sochacki, J. (2021, May) Scaffolding as a RoadMap: Guiding and Supporting Student Learning. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/course-design-ideas/scaffolding-as-a-roadmap-guiding-and-supporting-student-learning/
Wood, D., Bruner, J. S., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 17(2), 89-100. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.1976.tb00381.x