Revolution Lullabye

October 14, 2013

McLaughlin and Moore, Integrating Critical Thinking into the Assessment of College Writing

McLaughlin, Frost and Miriam Moore. “Integrating Critical Thinking into the Assessment of College Writing.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 40.2 (December 2012): 145-162.

McLaughlin and Moore explain their study of how to assess critical thinking in college student essays. They developed a writing rubric intended to assess student writing across the disciplines, and then asked participants at the March 2011 Symposium on Thinking and Writing at the College Level to use the rubric to evaluate two student papers (both essays were written in response to a prompt that asked the student to define a term.) The results of the assessment surprised McLaughlin and Moore, as they assumed that one of the student essays was markedly stronger than the other. What they found was that the evaluators (80% of whom taught first-year writing in a variety of contexts) valued different attributes in student writing. McLaughlin and Moore argue that it is simpler to assess student writing based on attributes like “correctness” or “voice” instead of characteristics that point to critical thinking, like thoughtfulness, logical development, and consideration of alternative perspectives. They contend that the writing tasks students are given in K-12, which emphasize creative writing and the development of a strong, emotive voice, are distinctly different from the careful, reasoned academic writing (a very specific voice) that is hallmark of “college-level writing” and which is expected in first-year composition writing tasks.

Notable Notes

based the construction of their critical thinking in writing rubric (CTWR) on other rubrics designed by other institutions (Washington State University) and Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy (147)

categories of the CTWR: Focus, Logic (both of these first two categories contain language that incorporates elements of critical thinking), Content, Style, Correctness, Research (150).

keywords that point to critical thinking in these first two rubric categories: thoughtful, interpret evidence, draws warranted conclusions, analyzes alternative perspectives, evaluates when appropriate (150).

overemphasis on the construction of voice (155) – emotional voice (pathos) can mislead a reader where there is no logical, critical thought

college-level writing is mostly expository – requires a “drier” academic voice (156).

personal narrative v. critical analysis – writing tasks students are given in high school, college

the difficulty of capturing elements of critical thinking in a rubric – rubrics simplify writing, often assess what’s easy to assess instead of what’s the most important element (146-147).

Quotable Quotes

“College-level writing, it seems, values the well-reasoned point over its dramatic rendering. Perhaps reasoning, then, is a salient feature of college-level writing. Whether it is as important in high school writing is certainly worth examining in greater detail in the future” (157).

“In conclusion, the assessment of critical thinking takes time and often complicates the act of writing assessment.  Sometimes the most highly detalied and interesting student writing is not the product of complicated thinking but rather of strong feeling. Yet voice is not a substitute for thinking, though it can certainly enhance the expression of thought” (157).

“Without open-minded thinking as a basis of approaching the writing task – the thinking that prompts the writer to consider alternative approaches and possible outcomes – the writer may not achieve the level of reasoning that we expect in freshman writing. This thoughtful, fair-minded approach with its resulting careful reasoning, often expressed in a clear but neutral tone, may well be one of the distinguishing features of ‘college-level’ thinking and writing” (158).

 

August 23, 2012

Cambridge, Research and Policy: Antithetical or Complementary?

Cambridge, Barbara. “Research and Policy: Antithetical or Complementary?” WPA 35.1 (Fall/Winter 2011): 135-147.

Cambridge uses her experience meeting with the Secretary of Education Duncan with other NCTE representatives to reflect on the relationship between research and policy-making in the US and to call on compositionists and writing program administrators to use their expertise in writing teaching and learning to impact educational policy.

Cambridge resists the notion that legislators don’t listen or don’t care about writing research; she cites examples from studies done on the impact of research on policy to show that legislators and policy-makers are working in a complex political situation, so that their decisions do not always mesh with what we in the field think should happen. The research Cambridge cites does show that legislators do relies on “intermediaries”: trusted sources of research-based information on public policy issues.  Cambridge argues that writing program administrators and compositionists can become these intermediaries and impact public policy decisions if 1. we craft long-term, trusted relationships with policy makers; 2. become knowledgable about policy issues and build those into our research agenda so that we can give pertinent information in a timely manner so we become “go-to” experts; 3. teach public writing in our composition classroom so that our students have “rhetorical agency in the current political climate” (143); 4. argue for changes in tenure guidelines that count policy research and public policy work as research, not service; and 5. understand and communicate to others how important research is to policy work.

Notable Notes

Bogenschneider and Corbett study: how sound research affects policy: “allocations – altering how resources are distributed; tactics – altering how policies and programs are designed; solutions – altering how policies and programs are pursued; framework – altering how we basically think about certain social issues; salience – altering how much importance we give an issue; awareness – altering even how we think about doing policy” (qtd. 293) (146)

importance of narration in public writing and rhetoric. The Common Core has de-emphasized narration in favor of argumentation. Does that really prepare our students for being effective citizens in a democracy? What is lost? (144)

know your legislator = knowing your audience. It’s basic rhetorical strategy.

timeliness is key – research isn’t valuable unless it’s available as (or before) decisions are being made.

Quotable Quotes

“Unless colleges and universities wake up to the crisis in our political system; acknowledge their responsibility to address it in multiple ways, including figuring out how to generate and communicate research that applies to the system; and value those of its faculty members and administrators who develop expertise in that responsibility, colleges and universities are failing the society in which they operate.” (146).

 

April 28, 2009

Yancey, Looking Back as We Look Forward

Yancey, Kathleen Blake. “Looking Back as We Look Forward: Historicizing Writing Assessment.” CCC 50 (1999): 483-503. Reprinted in Assessing Writing: A Critical Sourcebook. Eds. Huot and O’Neill. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009. 131-149.

Yancey divides the history of writing assessment into three “waves.” The first wave (1950-1970) focused on objective, non-essay testing that prioritized efficiency and reliability. The second wave (1970-1986) moved towards holistic scoring of essays, based on rubrics and scoring guides first developed through ETS and AP. The third wave (1986-present) expanded assessment to include portfolios (consisting of multiple examples of student writing) and larger, programmatic assessments. She looks at these waves from several perspectives: at how the concepts of reliability and validity are negotiated and valued; at the struggle between the knowledge of the assessment expert (and psychometrics) and the contextual, local knowledge of the non-expert teacher (and hermeneutics); and the move of assessment from outside and before the classroom to within and after the class. She voices concerns and directions for further scholarship and practice in writing assessment, challenging the field to look for ways to use assessment rhetorically and ethically to help students and programs develop and to produce scholarly knowledge.

Quotable Quotes

“It is the self we want to teach, that we hope will learn, but that we are often loathe to evaluate. What is the role of the person/al in any writing assessment?” (132).

Notable Notes

The role of the classroom teacher moving into writing assessment: in the 1st wave, testing specialists evaluated, but through the 2nd and 3rd waves, the roles of teacher and evaluator overlapped into the new discipline of writing assessment.

Questions: Who is authorized to speak about assessment? What is the purpose of writing assessment in education? Who shuold hold hte power?

the use of portfolios shifts the purpose and goals of the assessment: using pass/fail instead of scoring and communal grading moves more towards assessing a program and establishing community values than individual student assessment. Use different stakeholders to read?

waves fall into each other, aren’t strict lines that categorize what’s happening.

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