Soft Scaffolding and Other Patterns for Formative Assessment
Posted by Steve Lay
As someone involved in software development, I’m used to thinking about ‘patterns’ in software design. Design patterns started life as a way of looking at the physical design of buildings. More recently, they’ve been used to identify solutions to common design problems in software. One of the key aspects of pattern use is that patterns are named, and these names can be used as a vocabulary to help designers implement solutions in software.
So I was interested to see the technique discussed in the context of designs of formative assessment by the recent JISC project on Scoping a Vision for Formative e-Assessment. In the final report, the authors document patterns for formative assessment as a way of bridging the gap between practitioners and those implementing solutions in software to support them.
The patterns have wonderful names like “Classroom Display,” “Round and Deep” and “Objects To Talk With” that entice me to want to use them in my own communications.
To give an example of how one might apply the theory, let’s take a design problem identified in the report. Given that the point of formative assessment is to inform future learning activities it is not surprising that in some environments outcomes are used too rigidly to determine the paths students take resulting in a turgid experience. What you need, apparently, is “soft scaffolding,” which describes solutions that soften the restrictions on types of responses or paths a student can take with a resource, for example, by providing free-text ‘other’ options in MCQs or replacing rigid navigation with recommendations and warnings.
You can jump straight to the patterns themselves using this on the project wiki.