Writing@CSU: Composition Teaching Resources

Day 6 - Thursday, September 11th

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

4.     Introduce the third type of response—analyzing the effectiveness of a text

 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.

·       Today we also introduce the notion of text evaluation (the analytic method of response) Students should consider all the ways in which they’ve criticized the texts we’ve been reading, as well as the criticisms they’ve heard voiced by others in the class. By the end of class, they should decide on a limited number of criteria on which to base their evaluations.


1.     Trade news clippings 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 (20 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, but Rather than just repeating these, form questions to help students think more critically:

·      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 (15 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.

6.     Review the third type of response - analyzing the effectiveness of a text (10 minutes): Begin by getting students to see that they could write an agree/disagree response an interpretive response, OR an analytical response related to this essay (or the other essays) for Portfolio One. Ask: Could we agree or disagree with Bollinger or the Thernstroms? Could we challenge their assumptions and the implications of their arguments? (The answer to both questions is, of course, yes.) However, for your immediate purposes, you’re going to focus on writing an analytic response.

Review the following definition. Put this on an overhead or refer students to the appropriate section in the PHG. You might point out that the example of response in the PHG is, in fact, a text effectiveness analysis and thus provides a good example of this response type.

The goal of an analytical response is to determine a text's effectiveness by examining its parts. You might look at the purpose, the intended audience, the thesis, the main ideas, organization, evidence, language, and style. Your objective for writing an analytic response is to point out a text’s strong points and/or where it falls short. Analyzing the text's effectiveness allows you to make more informed decisions about the usefulness and credibility of a writer's argument.

Transition to Next Activity: Write a transition linking these two activities. (For assistance, look at the section on writing transitions from the guide on “Planning a Class” located on Writing@CSU). The goal here, however, is to check on student understanding of the authors’ points before moving into an evaluation of their arguments. You might want to use a brief WTL to refocus the class on the Bollinger and Thernstrom essays at this point, asking them to write a one-paragraph summary of the essay they read.

7.     Check student understanding of these articles by engaging students in an abbreviated JIGSAW reading activity (15 minutes). Form “Expert Groups” of 4-5 consisting of students who have written summary bullets for the same essay (Bollinger or the Thernstroms). Follow the instructions below to obtain consensus on summarizing the text (main and key points), as well as consensus on the contexts and values informing the authors’ perspectives. Then move to a few evaluative criteria—perhaps tone and “case strategy” or the reasonableness of the argument’s logic. Complete the expert group work in 10 minutes and then move students into “Teaching Pairs,” partnering students who worked on different essays. Each partner briefs the other (teaches the other) the summary points and initial evaluation criteria and judgments about the texts. Follow the instructions below for the JIGSAW activity.

Expert Group Questions:

·      What is the main idea of this essay? How does this essay distinguish itself from other sources you’ve read in terms of its position?

·      What are three or four key points that are made in support of this main idea?

·      Who are the authors? What relationship might there be between who the authors are (roles, jobs, affiliations, etc.) and the positions they take on this issue?

·      Where was this article published and what cues does that site provide to the writer’s affiliations and/or purposes?

·      Where is this author(s) most clear about his or her point? Where do you struggle to follow the logic?

·      What is the tone of the article? (Serious, sarcastic, mean-spirited, congenial?) How does the tone overlap with the writer’s purposes? Is he or she writing toward friends or toward adversaries?

·      Based upon other arguments you’ve read on the SAT, how does this article’s argument hold up? Where would other people we’ve read disagree with this author—and why? How would someone who disagreed with this author likely challenge this author’s ideas or ways of stating his/her ideas? How effective is the author’s “case structure” or way of developing his/their argument?

Teaching Pairs

·      Select one or two of the above questions to focus on as you indicate to your new group members what they need to know about the article you read and are now evaluating. (Summary of main idea and key points)

·      Be specific with your criteria for evaluation.

·      Point to specific moments in the text that provide evidence of your evaluation points.

·      Based upon your evaluation, how would you judge this article for your new group members? What would you want them to value about this article? What would you caution them to be wary of?

8.     Begin discussing how to write an analytic response to the Bollinger and

Thernstroms arguments (5-10 minutes, as time allows): Review each of the elements or criteria for analytic evaluation. Encourage students to refer to the text when responding to the following questions. Try to push them beyond giving surface responses (remind them that in their essays they’ll need to develop answers with reasons and evidence rather than generalizations). Use the following questions as a guide to review the elements for evaluating a writer’s text analytically (feel free to add to these). You may want to focus on just one or two so that the discussion becomes more detailed and penetrating rather than just a superficial itemization of strengths and weaknesses without serious analysis.

·      Did Bollinger/Thernstrom effectively accomplish their purposes in the texts? What were the purposes, and why or why not were those goals achieved?

·      Will the argument meet the needs and interests of the intended readers? Who are they? What are their values? What are their beliefs? Would they oppose or support his argument? Why or Why not? Is the article truly argumentative (challenging the audience in some way) or is it simply “preaching to the choir”?

·      What can you say about the organization of the argument? Was it easy to follow? Did it progress in a logical order? Where did you falter as you read?

·      What about the evidence used to support the argument?

·      How does the author(s) support the main points? What is the quality of the sources referred to? Are they reliable? Does the writer(s) support all claims? What kind of evidence does the writer(s) use? Which claims are left unsupported?

·      What can you say about Bollinger’s or the Thernstroms’ tone and approach in the essay—that is, does it seem fair and reasonable or is the tone somehow off-putting? Pinpoint locations that cause the effect you describe.

·      Write a well-constructed analytic claim for the article. How do you judge the article as a whole and based upon what criteria? Are both your judgment and the criteria you used to make this judgment clearly stated in your claim? Write a brief phrase outline for how this essay would be constructed, including broad references to text evidence you would cite in constructing your evaluation of this text.

** Explain that analytical responses can serve to: praise a writer for the effectiveness of their text; point out the problems or shortcomings in a writer’s argument; praise some parts of a writer’s argument and challenge others. In short, however, the task of this response type is to evaluate and judge the text based upon a limited number of criteria that are then fully developed in support of the overall judgment. You might ask students to take a look at the PHG example of a text effectiveness response. You might also note that it is generally more effective for writers to offer some degree of criticism rather than pure praise when doing an analytic response.

Conclusion: Write a conclusion for today’s lesson. For assistance, look at the section on writing introductions and conclusions from the guide on Planning a Class located in the Teaching Guides on Writing@CSU (https://writing.colostate.edu/guides/teaching/planning/).

Assignment for Next Time

  • Write a short (one-paragraph) summary followed by a two-page analytic response to either Bollinger’s or the Thernstroms’ argument, focusing on just one or two criteria. Once you’ve decided which criteria you’ll look at (eg. use of tone and use of evidence) construct an overall claim to map out your response. Begin your response with that claim, provide an essay map, and follow the order of your essay map, developing your reasons (evaluation based on a limited number of criteria) with some initial text evidence. Post your summary and response to the Writing Studio. Bring a hard copy of your draft to class.