What Do Your Tasks Value More: Your Ideas or Your Students?

Whether reading, writing or even instructing students around key terminology, the Periodic Table of Elements, or the causes of World War I, we must always place in the primary spot of our focus the ideas our students have.

Never is this more true than when they are writing — creatively or about the aforementioned subjects. Writing with purpose is about writing with ideas that are their own. It is about writing to discover how to express those ideas and achieve authentic effects on real audiences. This process of placing purpose first means that it is through writing students discover flaws in their thinking or better ways to show what they mean, etc.

This does not mean students shouldn’t discuss these thoughts before reading. They absolutely should, especially with their peers, and with you as the journalist discovering their eyewitness description on their ideas.

The task you design determines how deep and authentic this process will be for students. We often work so hard to develop tasks that involve clear and wide options and invite meaningful deliberation.

But I have also seen tasks where all we are asking students to do is frame their understanding of someone else’s ideas (which can lead to students over-quoting and paraphrasing and even plagiarizing) a task that asks them to do nothing more than pick a side and support it with evidence. Or write in an otherwise creative genre with certain literary devices required before they even begin to write and have a need for such a device.So when writing or examining a task and what we are asking students to actually think and do, interrogate the task or yourself:

Are we asking students through this task to develop and explore their own thoughts, or to prove how much they have understood ours?

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