Furthermore, how will they decide what to write about? In these cases, showing up empty-handed–to a vacant lot, to a blank page–doesn’t often lead to brilliant work.Both the building and the research paper should be carefully planned, with input provided throughout the process.Many of us who teach in higher education do not have a teaching background, nor do we have experience in curriculum development.We know our content areas and are experts in our fields, but structuring learning experiences for students may or may not be our strong suit.Otherwise, the building may look nothing like what the architect envisioned or the paper may look nothing like what you intended in the prompt.Ryerson University’s Best Practices in Instructional Scaffolding explains Lev Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development” as the place where what you do know intersects with what you don’t know yet.Consider these tips to scaffolding a major assignment or assessment. Scaffolding student learning: Instructional approaches and issues.
Those at other institutions may have similar resources available.We’ve written a syllabus (or were handed one to use) and have developed some pretty impressive assessments, projects, and papers in order to evaluate our students’ progress through the content.Sometimes we discover that students either don’t perform well on the learning experiences we’ve designed or they experience a great deal of frustration with what they consider high stakes assignments.How would workers move between levels of the building? To zoom out even further, how do workers know what the building looks like? Now imagine asking students to complete a 20-page paper that is due the last day of class.You never discuss their thesis with them, read a draft, or review their resources in advance. How will they push their critical thinking skills to the next level?But you may also find it worthwhile to give some guidance on the reading aspect.The Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan has a great three page guide, How to Read (and Understand) a Social Science Journal Article (pdf) that breaks down the parts of a journal article (e.g., title, abstract, introduction, literature review, etc.) and describes what each is and what it tells the reader.If there is one major paper in the course and 80% of their final grade depends on their ability to meet the high expectations of that paper, they better be able to produce a quality piece right out of the gate. However, often they’ve not had any preparation to meet these high expectations and no opportunity to revise and resubmit their work. At the end of the project, the scaffolding is removed and the building stands on its own.Imagine trying to create that building without the help of scaffolding.