A Reader Asks… Is the Writing Critical

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A LYS District Curriculum Specialist asks the following:

SC,

My colleague and I have both heard you speak and have read your explanation for determining if students are writing critically. We have reached two different conclusions. She still thinks most writing in ELAR is not critical. She refers to it as mostly free writing. 

But my take is that it depends on the task.  Now, I am not an ELAR specialist, so I am a little confused at what a free write is exactly.  If a student is given a task or prompt where they have to do a mind map, a thought process of how their own experiences relate to the task or prompt, connect their thoughts into writing and then they revise (usually through reflection with self and peers) then this type of task could be critical.  I hate to keep asking the same questions, I am just seeking clarification.

SC Response I’m not surprised that this pursuit has led to some debate.  We too find ourselves debating when is a writing task critical and when is it not. To answer definitively, I would have to see the prompt.  Without seeing the prompt, I would venture to say that you are both probably right.  

Most writing in ELAR is not critical writing.  It is just getting words on paper.  A lot of warm-up and journal writing would fall in this category.  Along with the all too common, “Write about what you did for Spring Break” writing assignments, which are really just extended time fillers.  

Which is why you have to look at the prompt and determine: 

1. Does it force a connection between the content (taught today) and something else? 2. Does it force the student to think at the application level of cognition or higher?

If the answer to either of these questions is “no,” it is safe to assume that the writing will not be critical.  If the answer to both questions is “yes,” move to the next set of “look for’s.”

You then have to look at what the students are writing and determine:

1. Are the students making some connection(s)? 2. Does the writing indicate thinking at the application level or higher?

If no, the writing is probably not critical.  If yes, you have a Critical Writing winner.

Finally, I will admit that the final test is your gut.  Throw the rules aside and just look. Everything may look wrong and your gut will tell you that it is critical writing, and vice-versa.  Trust your gut and then develop the vocabulary to explain why your gut is right.     Think. Work. Achieve.

Your turn…

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