What is “scaffolding” and how can you use it to support the development of your students’ communication skills?

by | 27 Feb, 2017 | 0 comments

People talk about providing scaffolding for assignments but what does it look like and how does it support the development of communication skills?

First things first, be clear about the type of text (genre) you are expecting from students. For example, is it a learning journal, a blog, a research report, a business report or an essay? Also think about the purpose and audience of the text.

The text type, purpose and audience have implications for the:structure-language-presentation-venn

  • structure – the way the content is organised
  • language – the way the content is expressed
  • presentation – the layout, format, length, oral delivery (voice, body language, timing) and other conventions, such as spelling and referencing.

When you think about it, an academic essay and a business report may explore the same topic, but they are structured and presented in different ways and the language used is different because of the different audiences. They will differ even more if the purposes are different. For example it may be sufficient in an essay to discuss a topic, whereas a business report may need to include recommendations. These different purposes will impact the structure and language used in each case.

ScaffoldingScaffolding communication skills refers to the explicit teaching of the structure, language and presentation of particular types of texts. It is an approach advocated and adopted by many language and literacy educators.

A good starting point is to make your own tacit knowledge of the structure, language and presentation of the texts explicit in your:

  • learning and teaching activities
  • assessment design
  • marking criteria and standards
  • feedback to students.

It is especially valuable to use examples of similar types of texts in your scaffolding.

Remember, the texts that students are asked to create at university are often unfamiliar and complex to them, so scaffolding is especially important for first year and transition students. You can use this scaffolding framework to draw on the students’ existing tacit knowledge of how best to communicate for a particular purpose to a particular audience, as well as their existing knowledge of other text types.

As students’ communication skills develop and they become more familiar with and expert at communicating in specific disciplines, they will need less scaffolding. Ultimately, the aim is to align student learning, so that as graduates our students have the communication skills to be successful in their chosen professions.

So why is scaffolding important?

  • Students understand what is being asked of them.
  • Students submit better quality work.
  • Students’ learning is enhanced.
  • Students have a framework that they can apply in a variety of contexts.

Find out more

Contact your Academic Language and Learning adviser to help you develop scaffolding for the written and spoken assessment tasks in your subject.

Susan Hoadley and Deborah Nixon

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