Scaffolding the Class: Mid-Course Corrections

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In a recent meeting with instructors teaching gateway/corequisite pairs (both math and English) in a range of hybrid formats (with as little as 10% to as much as 75% online), I heard my colleagues talk about the difficulties students were having in navigating their courses—not just our corequisite or “learning support” courses, but their psychology, history, sociology, and science courses as well. In some cases, corequisite instructors reported serving in the role of scheduling advisors; they are helping students figure out when to go to class, when to log into a Zoom meeting, where to find assignments, where to submit assignments, and how to navigate staggering variations in online course layouts. In short, for many of our students, managing logistics has trumped learning for this term. 

What can I do to address the situation? Obviously, I cannot adjust anything outside of my own class, and within my class—an IRW corequisite paired with an FYC course, each with its own online course shell—I must still work within constraints. What I want my students to do, in truth, is approach my course like a text and “read” it—actively, carefully, and critically. I want my students to find dialogue in the structure of the course, just as I want them to talk to and with a text: dialogue with me, with the texts we are reading, with the media we use, with other students, and with the content as a whole. I wouldn’t want them to spend hours finding the right page in an assigned text, and I certainly don’t want them spending hours just figuring out how to locate course content.

When I assign a difficult text to first-year writers, especially those in my corequisite courses, I provide scaffolding—background information, strategies for handling content or vocabulary, questions to consider, annotations, and opportunities to revisit the text and consider it in light of other texts or experiences. 

And that’s exactly what I need to do for my “pandemic-hybrid” course: provide the kind of scaffolding that will encourage students to read it actively, carefully, and critically. 

How? By deploying the tools available to me:

  • The delete key on my laptop: I have been cutting away some of my oh-so-carefully designed activities and significantly rewording instructions on others.   Students need to spend less time on figuring out what to do, how to find the resources, and where to submit their work… and more time on reading, writing, and thinking. To that end, I have a second tool:
  • Active use of the in-person space, while we have it. I have half of my class for 125 minutes on Tuesday, and the other half for 125 minutes on Thursday.  My goal is to keep my talk to no more than 30 minutes of that allotted time, and to break up those 30 minutes into increments of about 10 minutes. Less of my voice, more of theirs.
  • “Zoom-alongs.” I am creating spaces for students to do some assignments with me working alongside.  I think students find encouragement in just talking through their work with some immediate feedback—rather than submitting what they are unsure about and waiting a few days for me to respond. Normally I schedule three conferences each semester, but this term I am also adding more opportunities for these sessions I’m calling “Zoom-alongs,” which allow students to take a more active role: they initiate the sessions and determine the focus. The sessions may end up being “write-alongs,” “read-alongs,” or “do-some-grammar-alongs,” or even “figure-out-who-my-advisor-is-alongs.”
  • “Reflect and Plan.” These are weekly check-ins that students can submit via a Google Form. I ask students some very basic but important questions: which assignments took the longest? What did you take away from those assignments?  What questions do you have? They can submit these with the click of a button, and I get good information about how students are “reading the course”–where they are focusing attention and time. The first three weeks of these assignments have helped me frame the mid-course correction I am implementing now.

How are you adjusting your FYC, IRW developmental, or corequisite courses this fall?  What unforeseen challenges have come up? How have you handled these?

I’d love to hear your strategies.

About the Author
Miriam Moore is Assistant Professor of English at the University of North Georgia. She teaches undergraduate linguistics and grammar courses, developmental English courses (integrated reading and writing), ESL composition and pedagogy, and the first-year composition sequence. She is the co-author with Susan Anker of Real Essays, Real Writing, Real Reading and Writing, and Writing Essentials Online. She has over 20 years experience in community college teaching as well. Her interests include applied linguistics, writing about writing approaches to composition, professionalism for two-year college English faculty, and threshold concepts for composition, reading, and grammar.