Language Resource Center
LRC Newsletter Spring - 2013
Authentic Tasks and Performance and Scaffolding

     The instructional strategy “Scaffolding” was driven by two significant movements in the field of foreign language instruction and pedagogy.

     During the 1980s to 1990s in the field of foreign language instruction and pedagogy, the concept of “Proficiency” in foreign language has developed, defining the criteria and assessment of performance standards in communicative competence as four skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening).

     After the criteria of performance standards was developed, the “National Standards for Foreign Languages” was established in 1996, consisting of 5 areas (known as the 5 Cs – Communication, Culture, Connection, Comparison, and Communities) and 11 standards for what kind of content learners should know and be able to use.

     With these two movements, foreign language teachers have been designing classroom activities and tasks to be as highly contextualized and close to real-life tasks as possible. They also include many authentic cultural materials and visual information in these tasks, promotes students to connect their language with the world outside of the classroom.

     However, it is very challenging for teachers to use these kinds of materials in the classroom because of the students’ limited language proficiency. For example, what some teachers end up doing is provide students with authentic materials such as a newspaper article while also including a vocabulary list. Unfortunately, this sort of instruction does not allow students to learn the target language or acquire new knowledge introduced the material, but rather forces students to memorize the vocabulary and to comprehend the meaning.

     One of the teaching strategies proposed for this challenge is “scaffolding”. A broad definition of scaffolding is “providing contextual supports for meaning through the use of simplified language, teacher modeling, visuals and graphics, cooperative learning and hands-on learning” (Bradley and Bradley, 2004).

    In addition, Douglas and Kataoka (2008) indicate that using scaffolding activities in the classroom involves four elements in the process:

  1. Providing temporary support from a teacher or capable peers until a learner can complete a similar task alone
  2. Demonstrating a learning process and joint engagement in the process
  3. Using an interactive approach which encourages genuine dialogue between the student and teacher as well as student-to-student
  4. Conducting activities that develop higher order cognitive skills rather than factual recall

     Scaffolding can be not only necessary and beneficial for the use of authentic materials in the classroom, but also for students’ authentic performance tasks such as communicating with native speakers. It is more difficult and challenging to provide scaffolding when the activity is an interactive mode of communication such as bringing native speakers into the classroom to talk with students because that requires students to negotiate meaning as well as use multiple skills to comprehend and produce language. I believe that these kinds of tasks require more scaffolding activities in order for students to successfully complete them.

     Skype has become a simple and cost-effective application that brings native speakers into the classroom. Professor Kerry Wallach in the Department of German Studies offered GER 335 “Redefining German: Gender, Nation, Migration” in the fall of 2012 and one of the big tasks in the course was to conduct a Skype conversation with a native speaker in Berlin, to whom students needed to ask questions and conduct a conversation with about a specific topic.

     A great amount of preparation and scaffolding tasks were necessary to make this activity successful. The follow-up student survey indicated that the following activities and materials helped students to prepare for the Skype conversation.

  • Reading materials related to the topic of conversation
  • Handouts of background information about the native speaker
  • Creating a list of questions and categorizing them

     Professor Wallach played the role of facilitator by modeling, monitoring, and helping students accomplish their task. These activities reduced the students’ anxiety and increased their motivation to communicate with a native speaker. The students felt a great amount of achievement by completing this task, according to the follow-up survey.

     I believe they also learned the process of how to prepare for similar situations, and I hope that they are able to apply this experience to their real-life future language-related endeavors.


Bradley and Bradley (2004) “Scaffolding Academic Learning for Second Language Learners”, Internet TESL Journal, May 2004, http://iteslj.org/Articles/Bradley-Scaffolding/

Douglas and Kataoka (2008) “Scaffolding in Content Based Instruction to Teach Japanese”, Japanese Language and Literature 42 vol2

Ushida and Masuyama “Basic Concepts of Japanese Language Teaching”, Japanese Online Instruction Network for Teachers (JOINT) online professional development course, American Association of Teachers of Japanese (AATJ) , Spring 2012, http://www.aatj.org/joint/BasicCourse.html

ACTFL Proficiency Guideline 2012 http://www.actfl.org/files/public/ACTFLProficiencyGuidelines2012_FINAL.pdf

Standards for Foreign Language Learning – Preparing for 21st Century http://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/public/StandardsforFLLexecsumm_rev.pdf

ACTFL Performance Descriptors For Language Learners http://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/PerformanceDescriptorsLanguageLearners.pdf

Content-Based Language Teaching with Technology (CoBaLLT) Strategy 4: Using Scaffolding Techniques - Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) http://www.carla.umn.edu/cobaltt/modules/strategies/ust.html 


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