What is Scaffolding?

Scaffolding means building the structure along the process of learning so that students can meet the learning goals. Scaffolding is a necessary and caring practice in setting students up to get to those goals. It is essential that what you are asking students to practice and demonstrate is aligned with those goals and the mode of assessment.  You also want that process to be supported. Scaffolding can be done in any number of ways: some have to do with tapping into campus and CUNY resources. Others are practices in the classroom that can help support learning. Here are some examples of scaffolding:

  1. Before asking students to embark on a high stakes research assignment, you can do a diagnostic assessment of their proficiency with research tools and methods.  
  2. Coordinate with your college library for an information literacy session
  3. Provide tools and resources for doing research such as OWL perdue and citation machines. 
  4. Offer short in-class workshops where students can do parts of their project during class time. This can be a great way to practice and engage with relevant skills and knowledge in a low stakes environment and provide formative feedback. You can also use a small group or peer review if appropriate.
  5. Another scaffolding practice is to check in with the writing center at your campus to see if they can provide tutoring services or writing support to your students. These resources are especially helpful to students who are struggling with academic writing and need more one on one attention.
  6. Locate and share digital resources such as tutorials and lectures that can help students with aspects of their projects. Short videos that show students how to do something or explain a concept can be very helpful tools to support students.  
  7. Offer office hours, either in person or virtually to check in with students about their projects. If individual check ins are unrealistic, you can consider doing small group check ins. 
  8. Staggering deadlines for milestones in the assignment can also help students move through the assignment. Don’t just set a due date for a big assignment. Provide steps, benchmarks or a timeline to help students stay on track.

You can scaffold most assignments, and engage different practices and resources to do so. You may scaffold a take home exam by asking students to engage in group reading and discussion activity during class review. You may scaffold doing a lab report by having students to do a practice run in class and respond to your feedback first. There are many tools, methods and resources that can be used to scaffold many types of assignments. Using library resources, particularly the info literacy sessions offered at many campuses, can be such a powerful way to scaffold so many research-based assignments. Providing students with links to places where they can get their citations done and other tools that can help with their assignments is another practice in scaffolding. Finally, building time in the class and offering a space to ask questions, practice skills and check-in with students is really beneficial to supporting the learning that is happening during the course of the assignment. 

A major benefit to scaffolding is that it minimizes any confusion or opportunity for plagiarism. An assignment doesn’t have to be a siloed activity within the context of the course. Rather, it is an opportunity to engage, practice, collaborate, workshop, explore and provide meaningful feedback.