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  • Scaffolding for Justice in the Writing about Literature Classroom
  • Shane A. McCoy (bio)


In his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire contends that education should aim to condition young students to understand how "a culture of domination" has produced a historically contingent class of professionals to which many undergraduate students belong by virtue of pursuing university education. Many of these students are "afraid" of disrupting the status quo, Freire continues, and are "reluctant to engage in humanizing action" that intervenes in systemic inequalities (158). Therefore, these students should be "reclaimed by the revolution" brought about by insurgent education, in general, and critical pedagogues, in particular (Freire 158, emphases added).

How might we harness Freire's call to action to intervene in the sociocultural conditioning of students by educational institutions that perpetuate the status quo and produce students for the managerial class? How might we craft a writing about literature curriculum for the purposes of training students to adopt a social justice-oriented lens for reading and intervening in hegemonic cultural formations of systemic inequalities? Put another way, how might we scaffold a curriculum that is oriented towards social justice while also training students in critical reading and writing practices? In the wake of recent protest movements, designing and developing a social justice-oriented curriculum is imperative. However, the theoretical depth and understanding offered in critical and feminist pedagogies often lacks pragmatic solutions for general education as well as literature courses. Indeed, before we can teach for justice in writing about literature courses, we need to scaffold for justice with critical reading and writing practices that enlist students as knowledge producers. In this paper, I translate critical and feminist pedagogies in order to craft critical reading and writing practices that train students to adopt a social justice-oriented lens. I describe how scaffolding for justice, in general, and reading for justice and writing for justice, in particular, serve as catalysts for advancing social justice. Finally, I provide a general rubric for designing and developing a counter-curriculum that is aimed towards training students to adopt a social justice-oriented lens and divulge how scaffolding for justice as a pedagogical apparatus cultivates students' critically edged capacities for social justice in critical reading and writing practices. [End Page 316]

Background and Context

Often framed within the context of early childhood development and education,1 scaffolding provides a crucial theoretical paradigm for implementing social justice pedagogies in the writing about literature classroom. The idea of instructional scaffolding evolved from Jerome Bruner's readings of Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky's Mind in Society (1930). In their "The Role of Tutoring in Problem Solving," Jerome Bruner, David Wood, and Gail Ross introduce "scaffolding" as a

process that enables a child or novice to solve a problem, carry out a task or achieve a goal which would be beyond his unassisted efforts. This scaffolding consists essentially of the adult 'controlling' those elements of the task that are initially beyond the learner's capacity, thus permitting him to concentrate upon and complete only those elements that are within his range of competence.


During the scaffolding process, a teacher strategizes components of the curriculum in order to meet the educational needs of learners. The scaffolding process allows the instructor to develop tasks that are scaled in correspondence to the level of complexity and students' academic abilities.2 These instructional tasks must be crafted within the realm of what Lev Vygotsky calls the zone of proximal development (ZPD), which Aída Walqui and Kathryn Strom define as "the distance between the individual's current capabilities and potential capabilities" (2). Because learning is a social activity and relies upon more than simply an individual's intellect, the ZPD constitutes, Walqui and Strom continue, an "area—or the distance between the individual's current capabilities and potential capabilities" (2). This area includes not only what the student might already know and the skills already mastered but also the knowledge and skills the student can potentially master during the course. Appropriate scaffolding within the boundaries of ZPD thus enables the instructor to scale activities and assignments in order for the student to eventually become an autonomous learner because the scaffolding process...


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pp. 316-323
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