Students benefit from scaffolds as students often construct knowledge in supported environments. We view scaffolds as supports within the learning environment that provide students with information on how to proceed and engage in novel content or practice, without giving too much information away, so that students can engage successfully in the content or practice themselves--thus students will need some support, but not so much support that students are not doing the thinking themselves (as suggested by researchers such as McNeill et al., 2006 and Hogan & Pressley, 1997). The designed scaffolds in our formative assessment prototypes have three characteristics. First, scaffolding provides clear directions to explain what students must do in order to meet the expectations for a certain activity, thereby reducing confusion and uncertainty. Second, scaffolding keeps purpose and motivation in the forefront by revealing to students why they are doing the activity. In scenario-based assessment, it is important to keep the “driving question” in focus. Third, scaffolding keeps students on task by providing a pathway and outlining, or breaking down, the steps involved. This scaffolding requires the progression of activities to provide a sense of flexibility within a constrained environment that permits more precise inferences about students' knowledge and skills.

The screenshots in Figures 7 through 9 present an example of how we scaffold students to draw an initial model of ocean water by providing explicit instruction on the key points of scientific models (Figure 7), and giving an example of a scientific model (Figure 8). Furthermore, as illustrated in Figure 9, we provide clear directions about what the student is supposed to model. In order to activate students’ prior knowledge and scaffold their thinking for the culminating performance, we provide prompts, such as what things need to be in the model and what things need not be in the model. Such scaffolds are important since the epistemology of models receives little attention in many traditional learning environments (Gobert & Pallant, 2004; Schwarz & White, 2005). In our task, we provide multiple opportunities for students to revisit their initial models and revise them after engaging in multiple activities.

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Figure 7. Screenshot of the prototype – key points of modeling.

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Figure 8. Screenshot of the prototype – an example of modeling.

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Figure 9. Screenshot of the prototype – drawing a model.
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