Scaffolding for learning and assessment success

A recent article by Faculty Focus reminded me of the importance of scaffolding. The authors competently guide the use of scaffolding in online learning but their strategies can be used in both face to face learning or online and we recommend a read.
For those new to the term, scaffolding is the process of guidance, from the ‘knowledgeable instructor’ guiding the learner, using a constructivist approach, until the learner is able to perform the task on his/her own. The support is most effective when it links directly to the needs of the individual learner.
Scaffolding requires teaching staff to create a learning environment of inquiry, moving away from the more traditional classroom of instruction, ensuring tasks are broken down into small chunks that are modelled or demonstrated in a supportive learning environment. To do this teachers should break down the learning into a learning sequence that is specifically designed to help the learner achieve success in the new task.
The learning environment should have three key ingredients (Wells, 1999): 1) it should be based on the Freirian (1970) concept of ‘discourse’ at the heart of learning, giving learners the opportunity to co-construct knowledge; 2) the activity should be aligned with the desired learning outcomes, and 3) provide the learner with the opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of the new learning through the completion of a set task. These key ingredients outline an authentic learning environment, where learners are engaged in conversations with peers as they learn through authentic learning tasks.
To ensure success in this learning environment it must be a supportive one, where students do not fear asking questions or taking risks along the way as they move to complete the set tasks designed by the teacher.
Some methods to providing a supportive environment and a scaffolded approach:

  • Outline your learning objective at the beginning of the class so learners have a clear direction
  • Establish prior knowledge through early activities
  • Design the learning in chunks and check for understanding at the end of each chunk. In a lecture theatre, this can be established with online tools like GoSoapBox
  • Design engaging activities that allow students to apply the skills being learned
  • Offer learners a step by step guide to perform new skills
  • Ensure students understand why they are doing things
  • Keep learners on task; outline all possible steps
  • Along the way, see how they are going, provide formative assessment in a supportive environment
  • Discuss and guide as they learn; point them to resources they may need along the way
  • By designing each lesson in a step by step way the teacher can consider all the problems that could arise ahead of time and can provide solutions prior to these happening
  • Design Inquiry Based or Problem Solving learning experiences but ensure there is specific guidance until they can approach the problem alone
  • Ensure the environment is supportive of questioning so students can develop slowly until they can perform the task alone
  • Provide hints, partial solutions, direct step by step instruction, or model the process 

Porcaro, P (2018)

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