Scaffolding as a roadmap: guiding and supporting student learning

If there has ever been a time to create a flexible structure for student learning and achievement, now is the time. One of the most empowering and compassionate practices we can incorporate 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 can provide a weekly structure that supports student growth, creates independent learners who are responsible for their own learning, and gives learners more confidence in acquiring new skills.

Take The internship seminar, a 400-level undergraduate course offered as part of the Hartt School’s Music and Performing Arts Management Program. The scaffolding of the writing process in this course transformed the assessment of the research paper in several ways. Students take this course in their final year as a wrap-up project that synthesizes what they have studied and learned during their undergraduate years. The course helps students immerse themselves in writing a comprehensive analysis of an artistic organization. The teacher meets with the students individually on a weekly basis to move the project forward until the students feel confident enough to write on their own.

Creating a research paper can become a daunting and difficult task for students. Add the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the benefits of giving students structure and support through this scaffolded assessment become invaluable. Through this process, students have more clarity because they understand exactly what to do.

Here are four ways to create a strong scaffold structure for your teaching:

1. Organize a big evaluation with a matrix

One aspect of the pandemic that has posed problems for educators is the physical distance between teacher and student, which primarily hinders effective communication and makes it difficult to track progress. With the scaffolding technique, the assignment can be divided into different parts to help students digest large amounts of information.

A matrix can help organize this and put the whole project in perspective for gradual construction without overwhelming the student. A well-structured matrix can cover benchmarks like goals, timeline, approximate page length, and due dates.

Download a sample matrix

How you can use it now: If you have an assessment that has multiple milestones or multiple due dates, a matrix keeps everyone on track. Especially now, students need to record due dates so that deadlines don’t fall through the cracks. With everyone’s mental load at full capacity, the Matrix is ​​a compassionate way to support students and ensure homework is submitted on a timely basis.

2. Invite students to use a mind map and brainstorming tools.

Many of us are visual learners, which is when brainstorming tools like concept maps or mind maps come in handy. These allow students to “see” paper, first in their minds, then on paper. Mind maps can include details of the relationship between various concepts or simply be linked diagrams. In any case, this exercise circulates the creativity of the students and helps them take ownership of the process.

This is also a good time to write a hypothesis or thesis statement, which informs the next step in the scaffolding process (i.e. the research organizer).

Download a sample concept map

How you can use it now: Before students write a first draft, have them record their brainstorming process. Students can use mind maps on Canva or just take a photo of their ideas and upload them if they used paper and pencil. Checking an article’s start process allows you to offer support and feedback if students need to correct the course.

3. Support the research process with an organizer

If you want to walk your students through the research phase of an assignment, using a simple research organizer allows you to see if students are on the right track and quickly notice who might be. fell into a rabbit hole.

This helps tremendously to refine key words and concepts in order to arrive at relevant sources in the research phase. In addition to basic words, it is also recommended to do a brainstorming session for synonyms.

In The internship seminar class, potential quotes are presented in four groups (five quotes for each is a good start):
a. Periodical articles: general public magazines, specialized publications and scholarly or applied journals
b. Websites and Blogs
vs. Books and chapters
re. Videos, podcasts and documentaries

Depending on the area of ​​research, other citations may come into play such as brochures, annual reports, dissertations and theses. Finally, a list of potential people to interview can also be added to this section.

Download a sample research organizer

How you can use it now: If you want to experiment with a research organizer in your classroom without assigning a large research paper, collect the student-generated questions on various topics, then have students search for a topic using the ‘research organizer as a guide. Using shared documents will allow you to easily check student progress, and classmates can provide feedback on each other’s research process as well.

4. Provide clarity with templates, examples and topics

Eliminate what the final product will look like. A paper model shows students exactly what you are looking for. You create the structure, then the students use their research skills and creativity to make the paper their own.

One document that helps students calibrate their time is the rubric. Students can see the main components of the paper, the weight of each section relative to other sections, and understand how each block unfolds in sequence.

There are three submission cycles in The internship seminar class, two of which are drafts and one is the final paper. The first draft is due in week 7 and the second in week 11 of the semester. The instructor meets with the student after each round and gives detailed comments and offers suggestions and revisions. The final document is due in week 14, the last week of the semester.

Download an example of a section

How you can use it now: Create a simple template in a shared document and have students collaborate when they complete the document together. Once students see the value and ease of organization that the model provides, they will be more apt to accommodate models when completing larger assignments. Rubrics also give students a clear picture of what they need to do to make a project successful. Start by offering students a simple checklist for an assignment instead of creating an entire rubric. A checklist, like a rubric, encourages students to stay on track.

Through the use of these scaffolding strategies, students will have the tools to succeed on a large project such as a research paper. Without the scaffolding of big homework, some students get lost and ask themselves many questions. However, by clarifying the process using scaffolding tools, these organizers act as a road map as students navigate the writing process.

Julie Sochacki, JD, is Clinical Associate Professor of English and Director of the Secondary English Education Program at the University of Hartford. Julie is a lifelong learner and has been experimenting with active and collaborative learning in the classroom for 26 years. Follow Julie on Twitter: @profjulies or contact her at [email protected]

Mehmet Dede is Assistant Professor of Music Management and the Performing Arts at the Hartt School, University of Hartford. He is also an award-winning music curator and event producer for his work with the New York concert hall Drom. Follow him on LinkedIn.


Wood, D., Bruner, JS and Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 17 (2), 89-100.

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