Writing@CSU: Composition Teaching Resources

Day 7 - Wednesday, September 10th

Lesson Objectives: Today we go deeper into assumptions and implications (interpretive response), helping students to attach and pin down reasons and evidence for their claims about assumptions and implications. We then introduce the third response type: analysis, which involves understanding the parts of a text and then making an evaluation of a text based upon a limited set of criteria.

Connection to Course Goals: Today’s class builds on previous exposure to response types and takes students deeper into methods of developing a paper through reasons and evidence directed toward a particular purpose. This class helps students analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the contexts of the writers and their texts, a skill that will be important for Portfolios 2 and 3 as well. With the class discussion of a third response type, analysis, students learn the important skill of text evaluation. Students leave with an assignment to read a few Letters-to-the-Editor (and perhaps other NYT articles as well, as provided in the NYT electronic reserve readings), so that they become familiar with these rhetorical situations and also in order to see that pieces are often edited down to fit the constrained space of the newspaper.

A Possible Sequence of Activities

1.     Give feedback and hold students accountable for their reading of the NYT and their clipping of news on issues of interest.

2.     Discuss the assumptions and implications of Sacks’ and Williams’ arguments

3.     Develop interpretive responses by attaching reasons and evidence to assumptions and implications

 Introduction Points:

·      Last time we discussed assumptions and implications as a way to develop our interpretive responses.

·      Today, we continue with this idea, looking at examples from the Sacks’ and Williams’ texts.

Students should use this discussion as a way to reflect on homework  responses. They should: 1) try to determine whether their responses adequately identify assumptions and implications 2) try to determine whether their responses are fully developed with reasons and evidence.


1.     Trade news clippings (5 minutes) brought in today with a neighbor and skim one another’s. Do a two-three minute interview with one another about the issue and why you find it interesting. Ask a volunteer pair to brief one another’s article and issue to the class, explaining why the classmate selected it and finds the issue interesting. Have students turn in their clippings so that again you can review their emerging ideas for topics, and provide some feedback at the next class.

2.     Reflect on homework (3 minutes): Have students begin by refreshing their memories. Ask them to (silently) review their responses to Sacks’ or Williams’ essay.

Write a Transition to Next Activity. Emphasize the immediate goals of the day, including:

  • recalling our responses to Sacks or Williams
  • discussing the various assumptions and implications in each argument.
  • critically examining and interpreting the arguments
  • talking about the basics of the third response type
  • talking about how to build better responses for Portfolio One.

3.     Generate assumptions and implications from Sacks’ and Williams’ essays (15 minutes): The goal for this activity is to check to see that students are able to pinpoint some of the assumptions and implications in each argument. The interpretive response demands the most critical thinking, so you may need to provide prompts to help students “dig deeper.” During this activity, list students’ responses on the board and tell them to use their homework as a guide.

Here are some of the assumptions and implications in each of the arguments. You may add to this list or change these as you see fit. If students get stuck or offer limited answers encourage them to think harder about the observations below. Rather than repeating these, formulate questions to help students think more critically:

For example:

·      What do Sacks and Williams assume about their audiences?

·      What do Sacks and Williams assume about conservatives’/liberals’ intentions?

·      What does each argument imply about the fate of alternatives to the SAT?






Williams’ Assumptions

Williams’ Implications

Educators agree that the SAT is flawed

Sooner or later the SAT must be changed or gotten rid of and a replace-

ment measure must be found

Readers will agree that the “diversity lobby” is prone to devious methods, that the end of race-based admissions at U of C was good

Efforts to diversify campuses may be undermined or completely undone.

All-white privileged students of alumni may prevail.

Most people see an inherent value in diversity populations in school settings

Allegiance to a diverse population on campuses leads to a number of remedies and a lot of challenges

In time, the end of affirmative action in college admissions will lead to higher achievement among minorities

A belief in the free market as a “fix” for schooling must be efforts to improve schooling in urban and poor settings

Interpretations of the correlation between race and SAT scores will be similar

“Playing the race card” further fractures race relations and fails to redress inequities in schooling

Readers will agree that the SAT is not biased and that his single test question example shows this is so

A refusal to look more deeply at vocabulary q’s & their relation to life experience may lead to heads in the sand

Public universities are for the public, not an elite subset of the public

Public universities so conceived are obligated to teach virtually everyone. Why not just go to open admissions? Will the quality of an education suffer?

Audience will agree that applicants difficult backgrounds are the product of dysfunctional families

Are we to believe that merit is doled out equally? What of the young people who overcome enormous obstacles to achieve in school? No reward?

Readers will be familiar with other experiments, such as the U of Texas “Top 10%” law and will agree on the interpretation presented here

The U of T program Top 10% program has led to serious lowering of average SAT scores at U T and may be just another ill-devised sorting method

Readers will equate “comprehensive review” with “race-based” admissions. Readers will also agree that racial preferencing is condescending toward minorities

If all race-based policies are inappropriate then should the gains associated with Civil Rights legislation go away too?

A critical eye on the value of testing is valuable but not all would agree, given the history of the justification for the SAT

What better methods are there for determining student readiness? Holistic eval is very expensive. Who will pay for it?

The leftist agenda has caused many of society’s ills-- family breakdown, illegitimacy, and low academic achievement

Conservatives blame liberals, and vice-versa. Who has SOLUTIONS?


Write a transition that moves students from the observations they’ve generated to the development of a better (more successful) response.

4.     Practice developing an interpretive response to each text by developing reasons and evidence to refute assumptions and implications (10 minutes): The goal of this activity is to help students develop their observations into well-reasoned and well-supported responses. First, explain (or create a mini-outline on an overhead) how a writer can develop an interpretive response by addressing:

·      an author’s assumptions/implications

·      why as a responder the student is troubled by an assumption/implication

·      reasons why the assumption/implication is problematic

·      evidence to prove that the assumption/implication is problematic

Then, practice this process by consulting the list of assumptions and implications. Ask students to consider whether or not they would support or refute the chosen author’s assumptions and implications. Then, choose examples from the board to practice developing reasons and evidence.

Here’s how it might look using one of Williams’ implications:

·      Implies that there is no place in admissions decisions for acknowledging the obstacles students have overcome to get where they are

·      Do students agree/disagree with this? (take one side at a time)

·      What reasons can students offer for why they agree/disagree? (reasons must be substantial and something that can be supported - “It’s stupid” won’t cut it)

·      What evidence can students provide for why they agree/disagree (i.e. personal experience - “I have a friend whose parents were both disabled and she had to support them financially while tending to their medical needs and going to school for herself. She worked 20 hours a day from the time she was 12. Shouldn’t her remarkable maturity and accomplishment be acknowledged even if her SAT scores were weak?”

Explain to students that without evidence, their responses are reduced to a list of opinions or unsupported rants. Also, warn students that they may need to search for textual evidence to support “gut feelings” or reactions.

5.     Reflect on discussion and make plans to revise responses (5 minutes): Ask students to reflect on today’s lesson, then to look back over their homework responses to Sacks or Williams and jot down notes for revision. If they were to revise this essay for Portfolio One, what changes would they need to make to strengthen and develop their response. Point out that the more precise and focused they are with this REVISION PLAN, the more helpful the plan will be as they revise—if they choose to revise this response.

Conclusion: Please write your own conclusion along the lines of the following: Today we focused on developing the interpretive form of response and distinguished reasons from evidence. Your ability to apply these principles will directly impact your performance on Portfolio 1. Next time we will begin to discuss the third type of response, the analytical response, which can be used to judge the effectiveness of a text for its intended purposes and audience. In preparation for that discussion, two new articles are assigned for reading.

Assignment for Next Time

  • Read Lee Bollinger’s “Debate Over SAT Masks Perilous Trends in College Admissions” from the Chronicle of Higher Education and “Admissions Impossible” by Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom. ½ class brings a hard copy list of bulleted key points and an overall main idea stated as a thesis that you draw (or see indirectly stated) from Bollinger’s essay. Other ½ class brings a hard copy list of bulleted key points and an overall main idea stated as thesis that you draw (or see indirectly stated) from the Thernstrom essay. One page of material is sufficient. [Instructors: you must decide how to divide the class for this homework. Sometimes the best thing to do is just number off 1-2, 1-2, and have all the ones read the first document and all the twos read the second.]
  • Review the PHG pages on the text evaluation (analytic) response method, paying special attention to the sample on pages 164-165.