Teach the evidence waltz for nonfiction writing.

Couple dancing and question

The evidence waltz is a very simple, three-step way to teach students to present evidence in nonfiction texts.

1. Prepare readers for the evidence

The first step is to prepare readers to understand the evidence in the context of the writer’s thesis.

If the student is writing about why pregnant elephants shouldn’t wear tennis shoes, she might prepare readers for her first piece of evidence by saying:

“The hazards of allowing pregnant elephants to wear tennis shoes were first documented in 1957 by African observer John Clayton in a guest article in the Journal of Pachyderm Podiatry. “

2. Present the evidence

The second step is for writers to present their evidence, citing their source.

Our student writer might have this to say:

Clayton wrote, “The practice of allowing pregnant elephants to wear tennis shoes, no matter how well-intended, is simply wrong. Such footwear is no better than going barefoot.”

3. Explain its significance

The third step is for writers to explain the significance of the evidence in terms of the thesis they are trying to prove.

Here’s our student writer doing that:

Although Clayton is not certified in pachyderm podiatry, his credentials as an observer of elephants cannot be disputed by anyone who has read any of Edgar Rice Burroughs novels in which Clayton appears under his pseudonym “Tarzan.”

For more about teaching the evidence waltz, visit this YCTWriting page.

Flip the Bloomin’ straw man

When students write about a novel based on having seen the movie, teachers are dismayed.

AP exam topic work viewed, not read

What about when teachers review a scholarly work based solely on the abstract?

Is it acceptable to write for teachers to write critical analysis based on something they heard about a book?

Would it be legitimate for teachers to pan a work if their information about it were from an education course for which they paid tuition?

These are not hypothetical questions for me. I discovered last week a subcontractor was not reading the documents for which she was writing annotations. She said she didn’t have time to read the sources. I didn’t find that an acceptable excuse. I expect my students and my employees to read the works they critique.

Perhaps my expectations of acceptable educator standards are out of date.  I certainly feel out of step when I read education blogs.

One of the most popular education blog posts in the past couple weeks is Shelley Wright’s blog about flipping Bloom’s Taxonomy.

wrightsroom tweets her blog

Response to the post ranged from favorable to gushing.

post one of best ever

In her post, Wright has this to say:

The presentation of the Taxonomy (in boththe original and revised versions) as a pyramid suggests that one cannot effectively begin to address higher levels of thinking until those below them have been thoroughly addressed. Consequently (at least in the view of many teachers who learned the taxonomy as part of their college training) Blooms becomes a “step pyramid” that one must arduously try to climb with your learners. Only the most academically adept are likely to reach the pinnacle. That’s the way I was taught it. [emphasis added]

Shelley Wright is probably a superb teacher. Her lessons are interesting and engaging. However, what she flips is not the taxonomy, but a straw man.

Wright thinks the taxonomy is wrong because her experience doesn’t square with the way she was taught.  The step pyramid she describes doesn’t square with my experience either. However, I know the step pyramid that Wright flips does not appear anywhere in the taxonomy—not in the original 1956 handbook or the 2001 revision.

I own (and have read more than once) both the 1956 The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Handbook I Cognitive Domain, edited by Bloom, and the 2001 A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, edited by Anderson and Krathwohl.

To understand either taxonomy, one must understand how the authors define terms,  since a taxonomy is a device for defining characteristics so we can sort items.  The process Wright describes using in her classes does not begin with creativity as the revised taxonomy defines it.

In her example of the advertisement, the class begins roughly at the application level, rearranging given elements in the form of an advertisement. It’s a great lesson, but it’s not one that creates as the revised taxonomy defines that term.  In the revised taxonomy, to create involves producing something that includes more than the materials the student started with.

Run through Wright’s other examples.

None begins with having students create.

Where Wright messed up was in not using primary sources.  The link Wright provides in the segment quoted above, does not go to a primary source. Granted the primary sources are expensive, but David R. Krathwohl’s 2002 article  in Theory into Practice about the revised taxonomy is was free to download online.  Just reading it would have disabused Wright of the idea that the taxonomy is lays out an educational program that must be followed sequentially.

As educators, let’s do what we want our students to do: Read the primary documents.

[Krathwohl’s article, which was available for download when this post was written, is no longer available. Link deleted 04-02-2014]