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CITL Workshop: Designing Research Paper Assignments: Designing Research Paper Assignments

Assignment Scaffolding Worksheet

Further Reading

What is Scaffolding?

Allyson Skene and Sarah Fedko (Centre for Teaching and Learning, University of Toronto) define scaffolding as "structuring assignments and course material in a systemic way to support [...] learning objectives and make the goals and process transparent to students."

Why Scaffold Assignments?

Scaffolding assignments allows students to focus on discrete elements of the research process. Instead of having students write a final paper as the only deliverable, students work on each stage separately in order to build up to more difficult tasks. At the same time, faculty can guide wayward students back on track and provide feedback that leads to better student work.

How Can Faculty Use Scaffolding to Address Research Skills?

In Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom, John Bean identifies seven research writing skills that can be difficult for students (2011 ed., pp 229-231). By breaking down the assignment into stages, faculty can help students build up to more complicated tasks and emphasize different skills at the point of need.

  1. How to Ask Discipline-Appropriate Research Questions
  2. How to Establish a Rhetorical Context (Audience, Genre, and Purpose)
  3. How to Find Sources
  4. Why to Find Sources
  5. How to Integrate Sources into the Paper
  6. How to Take Thoughtful Notes
  7. How to Cite and Document Sources

Example of a Scaffolded Assignment

Stages of a Scaffolded Assignment

Possible Assignments for Each Stage
Topic Selection
  • Proposal
  • Identify broad topic idea
  • Thesis statement
  • Develop a research question
Background Information/"Presearch"
  • Brainstorming/Freewriting
  • Concept map
  • Identify contextual information
  • Refine broad topic
  • Revise initial proposal, thesis, or research question
  • Sharing findings in a CourseSite discussion forum
  • Annotated bibliography
  • Compose a research strategy
  • Research log
Evaluation of Sources
  • Compare and contrast sources (popular, scholarly, trade)
  • Critique a source
  • Investigate a scholar
  • Literature review
  • Outline
  • First draft
  • Peer comments
Final Draft
  • Final draft
  • Summative statement or self-assessment
  • Research reflection