7. Consider Scaffolding

A young woman is climbing a scaffoldConsider whether there is any way to scaffold your assessment. This means breaking it up into smaller and more manageable tasks that allow students to receive and incorporate feedback along the way. Scaffolding assessment can help students improve their learning outcomes, develop their metacognitive skills, and reduce their anxiety and cognitive load. Through scaffolded assessments, students learn while completing the assessment – learning the learning objectives and also learning how to learn.

For example, in an un-scaffolded assessment, you would assign “an essay,” where students have to figure out how to break down the task on their own and receive no feedback along the way. If they make a mistake at one of the stages in the production of the final essay (e.g., if the sources they find are not primary research papers and this was a requirement for their work), they will fail (or do poorly on) the assignment, even though they may understand how to do the other tasks.

In a scaffolded assignment, the task is broken down into stages, and students obtain feedback at each stage. They then incorporate the feedback to correct any mistake and ensure they meet the expectations for the assignment. In the example of an essay, you could break up the assignment into the submission of a bibliography, then an outline for the essay, then the introductory paragraph, then the citations in the correct citation style, and finally the whole essay. Each of the submission can be graded with low stakes grades to ensure they are done diligently (though often students take them seriously since they realize the opportunity this gives them to do well on the final assessment).

A student achieves success through taking smaller steps.If you want to scaffold your alternative assessment, consider the steps required to complete the whole project, and make it a requirement for students to submit a product at the end of each of these steps. You can assign a small grade for submitting the work to encourage students to take it seriously. This will also spread out the grades for the assessment and reduce anxiety.

Consider the sort of feedback that would be helpful to improve student work at each step. For example, in the essay example provided above, the feedback on the outline may focus on the structure and strength of the argument, and the introductory paragraph may be a good place to make comments on the quality of the writing.

Sources of Feedback

Some instructors may be legitimately concerned about increasing their workload by scaffolding their assessment. Consider that you are not the only source of feedback for students. Here are possible sources of feedback:

  • Instructor Feedback: Instructor feedback is the process of providing guidance, suggestions, or evaluation from the teacher on a specific task or assignment. Instructor feedback can help students clarify their expectations, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and monitor their progress. It can also provide students with expert knowledge and support. Instructor can use timely, specific, and actionable feedback to help students improve their work.
  • Peer Feedback: Peer feedback is the process of giving and receiving constructive comments from other students on a specific task or assignment. Peer feedback can enhance students’ motivation, collaboration, and critical thinking skills. It can also provide students with multiple perspectives and insights on their work. To scaffold peer feedback, you can use strategies such as peer review, peer editing, or peer assessment. You can also use rubrics, checklists, or guidelines to help students give and receive quality feedback. In seeing other examples and assessing other students’ work, students learn what constitutes good, and a not so good, work.
  • Institutional Support Resources: Some institutions offer library workshops, and support in the form of writing centres and peer tutors to help learners achieve their academic goals. An assignment could make use of such academic support systems to provide guidance and feedback on a step toward the final assessment submission.
  • GenAI Tool Feedback: GenAI tools can act as personal tutors for each student. GenAI can suggest sentence structures, alternative arguments or perspectives, or sources. Instructors can suggest prompts, queries, or challenges to help students make use of GenAI tools to receive feedback.

The Steps

If you decide to scaffold your assessment, consider the following steps:

  1. Identify the steps that students must perform in order to complete the assignment.
  2. Identify a deliverable that students could submit at the end of each step that would allow someone else to provide feedback on the project’s development.
  3. Identify the goal of each step. For example, the goal of creating an outline in an essay is to map out the main ideas and get a bird’s eye view of the structure of the argument. Aim to provide feedback on that aspect of the deliverable.
  4. Determine who will provide the feedback and how they will directed to provide the appropriate feedback at this stage. For example, if using peer feedback, a worksheet that each peer has to complete, that directs their feedback to certain aspects of the work, can help to ensure the feedback is focused. If you plan to ask students to use GenAI to provide feedback on their writing, design an effective prompt for this task (more on this in the next section of this book).
  5. Determine whether low stakes grades will be assigned to each (or some) of the deliverables.


If you are interested in learning more about scaffolding an assessment, consider the following resources.


Note: Images created using Bing Image Creator (September 2023)