Scaffold student learning

As a teaching academic you might have students from diverse backgrounds and equity groups (such as low socioeconomic (LSES), culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders or mature age) who may not have the academic literacy of their fellow students. They need to be taught academic discourses and skills or be directed to where they can learn such skills.

This is also important for all first-year experience students. First year students may be asked to research, analyse and synthesise ideas and information, and provide a considered response; and there are expectations about the way in which that response should be structured, the kind of information that is valid, and how it should be acknowledged. What assumptions do we make about student knowledge and skills in this area? And how do we currently support their transition into academic culture? 

Deakin University’s Course Design and Delivery Procedure mandates that curriculum designers and teachers:

  • build the academic skills of students in transition into the University learning environment
  • scaffold progress towards the achievement of expected course learning outcomes.

Teaching academic literacies using a scaffolded or a step-by-step approach supports your students’ learning journey. This comprises a ‘variety of instructional techniques used to move students progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in the learning process’ (Great Schools Partnership 2015).

­­­ Activity

Scaffolding student learning: tips for getting started

Importantly, scaffolded learning builds knowledge and skills required for students to succeed in their assessment tasks. Here are some ideas to help you design a scaffolded learning approach:

  • List the skills students require to complete each assignment.
  • Consider which of these skills may need to be scaffolded into students’ learning activities in order to prepare them to successfully complete their units.
  • Design small assessment tasks and activities that enable students to practise and build these skills progressively throughout the trimester.
  • Now create a curriculum map that visually depicts how each assignment aligns with scaffolded tasks, skills’ acquisition and content modules/topics.
  • Clearly explain to students the benefits of step-by-step learning and how it is incorporated into their study program.

(Adapted from Caruana 2012)

Teaching academic literacies: a transition toolkit has further examples of teaching activities that you can use or adapt to support students in the development of academic literacies.

Exemplar curriculum map for Deakin’s AIX160

Dr Petra Brown, Unit Chair for AIX160, Introduction to University Study, developed the curriculum map depicted below as a teaching tool to scaffold students’ learning. It progressively maps out week by week content making clear the links with skills’ acquisition and assessment tasks.

This curriculum map was developed as an html file designed to be uploaded to and edited in your CloudDeakin Unit site. Download the Curriculum map (ZIP 104KB) and follow the Curriculum map upload instructions (DOC 25KB). Any questions regarding this please contact Carly Milanovic. Click on the image below for a larger view.

AIX160 Curriculum map

Download an alternative format here: AIX160 Curriculum map (DOC 28KB)

Further teaching tips for inclusive assessment design are discussed in Make assessment inclusive.

Practical examples: how to progressively build knowledge and skills

Download First Year Scaffolding Examples (PDF 171KB) for suggestions on how to scaffold: assessment, critical thinking, essays, and knowledge in the sciences.

Practical examples: how Deakin teachers have chosen to scaffold reading

A common problem for tertiary teachers is 'How do I engage students with their reading materials?' Indeed, many first-year students find academic reading challenging initially. This may be more pronounced for students from equity backgrounds, particularly first in family, LSES or CALD. The following examples from Deakin academics demonstrate how scaffolding is crucial for these students but also helpful to all students.

Now find out how Deakin academics use a scaffolded approach for reading and student engagement.

Case study

Kate Anderson, Faculty of Health

With first years many are not independent learners. Scaffold their reading. Give them feedback very early on about how to read an article. In class, highlight the key ideas and then get them to tell someone else what it is about. Teach them how to pull out relevant information. In tutorial activities on-campus, for example when they watch a video, ask them to write down one sentence about it. Then think of three examples from it. Work in pairs, then small groups, then ask questions about it in the general class. So, they have had a chance to discuss it with each other and come up with an answer.

Case study

Dr Tanya King, Faculty of Arts and Education

In the video you are about to watch, Dr Tanya King (Faculty of Arts and Education) demonstrates simple but effective inclusive curriculum techniques to scaffold your students' learning. These include:

  • video annotated Unit Guide
  • video annotated reading with quiz
  • annotated readings in PDF and Word.
Video: Annotated readings


A video transcript may be downloaded here: Inclusive curriculum exemplar: annotated documents and other simple things(DOCX 16KB)


Caruana, V 2012, Scaffolding student learning: tips for getting started, Faculty Focus, retrieved 20 March 2017.

Great Schools Partnership 2015, 'Scaffolding' in The glossary of educational reform, retrieved 15 March 2017.

Inclusive curriculum exemplar—annotated documents 2015, DeakinAir, Dr Mary Dracup, Deakin University, 23 December, retrieved 10 May 2016.

Further reading

Devlin, M & McKay, J 2017, Facilitating success for students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds at regional universities, Federation University, Ballarat, retrieved 31 March 2017, see pp. 68 – 69.

Kift, S 2009, Articulating a transition pedagogy to scaffold and to enhance the first year student learning experience in Australian higher education: final report for ALTC Senior Fellowship Program, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane.

For more information go to Inclusive Teaching in Higher Education: Topic 2 in CloudDeakin and see 'Scaffolding your students' learning'. Go to CloudDeakin home page and self-register first: click on More-> Self Registration.


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