Scaffolded Assessments

Jessica Kalra

As defined by the University of Colorado, scaffolding is the process of breaking down a larger assignment into smaller assignments that focus on component skills or types of knowledge a learner might require to successfully complete the larger assignment. Sequencing is the process of arranging the scaffolded assignments into an order that builds towards the larger assignment. Scaffolding and sequencing encourage academic integrity by focusing learners on building skills and knowledge and encouraging engagement by creating manageable cognitive tasks and reducing cognitive load. These types of assignments also involve students in the metacognitive process, where the student becomes implicit in their acquisition of knowledge and skills.

To build scaffolded assessments, we would start by writing a description of the assignment and identify the component skills and knowledge students will need to be able to successfully perform the task. Consider what success looks like and what failure looks like. This practice will help to build rubrics for these assignments. Reflect on whether the students already have these skills or this knowledge, or whether they require instruction and practice with these skills. If students have the skills or knowledge, provide opportunities to practice using their prior knowledge and skills in this new context. If the students require instruction on this new knowledge or skill, then these are the things that will need to be scaffolded. To scaffold assessments, come up with component tasks that offer students time to learn and practice these skills independently. Map the relationship of each scaffolded and sequenced assignment and share this process with the students so that they can see the relationship of each task to the larger task(s) ahead as well as to the learning outcomes.

A key point to consider when thinking about scaffolding and sequencing is that this process allows students the benefit of practicing component skills independently first and then integrating those skills together. Therefore, monitoring progress and giving students feedback in a timely manner become critical to the success of these types of assessments. Part of scaffolding may also involve providing early, low stakes practice and feedback on similar assignments. This may mean that the tasks themselves account for no more than 10% of the total course grade or that only a selection are graded. When assessments are scaffolded, it ensures that students are doing their own work and promotes academic integrity.

An example of Scaffolding and Sequencing

In a second-year health sciences class, one learning outcome requires that after completion of the course the students will be able to use existing scientific data to generate a hypothesis. The process of hypothesis generation requires that students acquire and practice component skills such as defining the meaning of a hypothesis, making observations from reading scientific literature, and coming up with research questions. The following table shows how a final assignment of generating a hypothesis might be scaffolded.

Component Skills Practice Tasks Expectations: After completing this task, students should be able to….
Define: Variable, data, Hypothesis Read five scientific papers and write a reflection that identifies the variables and the hypothesis for each paper.
  • Describe the components of a research paper
  • Define and identify the independent and dependent variable as well as a hypothesis and the null hypothesis
Make Observations Describe the results of a research paper, as well as the scientific conclusion. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of the paper.
  • Extract meaningful information from scientific papers.
Define Research Questions Research an additional four recent research papers on the topic you have chosen and write an annotated bibliography reflecting on what you are still confused about, or what you would like to learn more about.
  • Critically analyze presented results.
  • Use the information collected from the reading of scientific articles to generate questions that will advance the information on this topic.
Generate a novel hypothesis Select one of the research questions you have and perform a literature search on this topic. From the information you have gathered to develop a novel hypothesis on this topic.
  • Generate a hypothesis statement that is:novel
    • specific
    • testable
    • falsifiable


Encouraging Academic Integrity Through Intentional Assessment Design Copyright © by Jessica Kalra. All Rights Reserved.

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