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From Low-stakes to High-stakes: Scaffolding Assignments for a Mid-term Exam

I designed a low-stakes, in-class exercise, structured on finding appropriate direct quotations and formulating paraphrases, for my students’ ENG101 mid-term exam. Because the mid-term is a two-hour in-class essay, I thought it best to design this particular exercise, as it eliminates a few steps in the writing process and allows students to focus their full attention on drafting and revising during the actual exam.

Since my research question involves identifying best practices for composition classes, this type of scaffolded assignment provides a seamless combination of efficiency and self-directed measures that are encouraged to assist students in becoming more comfortable with the drafting, revising, and editing steps in composition best-practices pedagogy.

All of the students were able to find direct quotations and/or develop appropriate paraphrases that related to the following themes from the narrative essay, “The Back of the Bus,” by Mary Mebane and The Autobiography of Malcolm X: institutional racism, segregation, anti-black violence, dehumanization, internalized racism, white supremacy, and Black nationalism. This portion of the exercise went very well; however, the challenges that followed were related to properly citing the source and formulating proper analyses.

The pedagogical strategies/ideas that were sparked during my conversations with students were the following: 1) I need to create another low-stakes exercise on how to develop strong analyses of sources; 2) I should have students work in pairs on this analysis exercise, since some students were particularly gifted in generating strong analyses while others needed more mentoring; and 3) I learned that these types of low-stakes exercises should be done at least once a week, since ENG101 meets twice a week. Incorporating these changes would allow for continuity, reinforcement, and eventual student mastery of these necessary steps in the writing process.

For my spring activity, I will definitely implement the exercise on developing strong analyses of sources. From past experience, when I have directed students to work together on different types of peer-critique exercises, I have learned that this type of partner-based activity is one that benefits both student mentor and mentee. The added bonus of these partner-based activities is that the students actually enjoy learning from each other. This exchange really creates a welcoming and engaging culture of learning in the classroom.

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