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Responding to response essays (part 1)

Posted on: March 16, 2019

I spent much of the week providing feedback and grading assignments that included a response essay. That part of the assessment required students to read a statement, agree or disagree with it, and then defend their stance with published evidence.

With a few exceptions, the responses and level of writing worried me. I am recording some reflections while the experience is fresh so that I can take pre-emptive steps next semester. I address two categories: Structured writing and writer mindset.
 

 
The main problem seemed to be that students did not know how to structure their responses. So I am offering some writing tips for the next batch of students. (This will add to the ones I had already written for a previous version of the assignment — crafting a teaching philosophy.)

Start with a declarative statement. When asked to make a choice or a stand, state it clearly and concisely at the beginning of the essay. There is no need for personal stories or opinions, trend analyses, waxing lyrical, and grand-standing. Get to the point.

Consider a nuanced stance. A choice is not always binary. Depending on the circumstances, both options could be valid. An option could also lie somewhere in between two extremes.

Defend your position in paragraphs. Each paragraph should contain one main idea or claim. That claim should be backed up with evidence. In the context of the assignment, the evidence should come from published research. The research should be unpacked to highlight how it supports the claim.

Consider counter arguments. A mature point of view is one that recognises contrary findings and perspectives. These might provide nuance to the overall argument or be used to strengthen the original stance.

Write the introduction and conclusion first. These are like the open and close brackets that encapsulate one’s thoughts. When a writer does this, the middle is like beads on a string. Sometimes the flow is simple and moves logically from one end to another. In other instances, the path might branch or is more elaborate. But in all cases, the conclusion reinforces the declarative statement.

I continue with writer mindset in part 2 tomorrow.

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