Climbing the Ladder of Successful Assignments

Hello again! For the past two months I’ve been exploring pedagogical theories that comprise first year composition courses as I begin my journey to teaching at the collegiate level. After a very restful spring break, and completing a syllabus project that analyzed the different threshold concepts my mentor professor utilizes in her class, I am now beginning to dive into actual pedagogical practices involved with FYC courses.

So, let’s get started!

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This past week our readings primarily dealt with the different structures that FYC classes can be created in. One article that stood out to me was “Sequencing and Scaffolding Assignments”, which discusses, as you guessed it, scaffolding as a practice. The article states, “The secret to effective writing instruction that integrates with your course content is to move from simple tasks to more complex tasks”. Further, “…to integrate writing instruction effectively, you’ll want to…scaffold the tasks within your assignments by breaking assignments or units into manageable tasks that add up to a whole”. So essentially, you start with assigning low stakes tasks that gradually build upon each other until they get to the final product.

For example, take my mentor’s scaffolded approach to annotated bibliographies, a classic assignment for English 1102 classes. She begins the process in week 2 by discussing research staples like primary vs. secondary sources, and archives. From there, she climbs up the annotated bibliography ladder, with each rung representing the next step in prepping students for success with their annotated bibliographies. One rung represents a class field trip to the KSU archives; the week after that, the students experiment with online databases; the week after that, they have to compose a “memo” of their research process and begin to write in MLA citation style. Each rung built upon itself until the students reached the top and discovered they had been learning to write an annotated bibliography all along!

A little bit sneaky? Or a little bit clever?

The article goes on to give three scaffolding strategies. The one I identified most with was the first strategy, which utilizes scaffolding a course, unit, or project around the pre-writing, writing, and revision cycle. Prewriting examples include examining the project prompt and writing a reflection piece, creating a project proposal, or even reverse outlining. The overall purpose of prewriting is to get the students to actively consider the assignment beforehand and reflect on the rhetorical/stylistic choices they are making throughout the assignment process.

Once the prewriting is done, students then move on to actual concrete writing assignments, such as writing multiple introductions for a paper, developing counterarguments, or leaving an author’s note on each draft created. This once again allows students to constantly think and process their writing as they craft their pieces.

Finally, the last step of this process involves heavy revision through peer reviews, conferences, revision plans, and post writes. As we learned with the threshold concepts, revision is such a key element to student writing, and proper writing instruction should not only include dedicated time for revision but should also encourage students to seek revision amongst their peers as well.

Mari’s Musing

Overall this article solidified the importance of scaffolding assignments for students. Not only is it a great way to organize materials and make the class seem connected, but it helps the students learn material without feeling like information was just thrust upon them. Based off of the examples I’ve read this week and seen first hand in my shadow class, I will definitely be utilizing scaffolding in my instruction come fall.

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