Scaffolded Assignments

Words of Wisdom

Writing simply means no dependent clauses, no dangling things, no flashbacks, and keeping the subject near the predicate. We throw in as many fresh words we can get away with. Simple, short sentences don't always work. You have to do tricks with pacing, alternate long sentences with short, to keep it vital and alive.... Virtually every page is a cliffhanger--you've got to force them to turn it.

— Dr. Seuss


In construction, a scaffold supports a structure as it is build. In teaching, scaffolding is the process by which students are supported during learning. In writing or public speaking pedagogy, scaffolding often takes the form of breaking assignments into smaller units that can be taught and given feedback, then combining them into a final product. For example, a term paper might be taught in this order, with due dates and grades/instructor feedback at each stage:
 
  1. Topic Proposal
  2. Annotated Bibliography
  3. Literature Review
  4. Statement of the Problem (Introduction)
  5. Methods
  6. Findings (or Argument/Theory)
  7. Conclusion
  8. Final paper
Obviously, these segments can be adapted depending on the genre, assignment, and discipline; they can be combined into  larger assignments, for example, annotated bibliography and literature review, or conclusion and final paper. A presentation might also be scaffolded, for example:
 
  1. Topic Proposal
  2. Annotated Bibliography
  3. Sentence Outline
  4. Slides
  5. Practice Delivery
  6. Final Delivery
You can weight these assignments differently, or make them equal, depending on your learning outcomes and teaching goals.

Scaffolding helps students by giving them formative feedback as they work on a project, and it breaks a difficult project into smaller, more manageable segments, so their attention can be appropriately focused on learning something new. It helps instructors by making the grading of the final product easier and quicker—you will have already addressed many major problems that impede reading or listening, and you will be somewhat familiar with the project.