Friday, April 02, 2010

Toward a Hierarchy of Evidence

One of the posters that I have hanging in my room says HOW DO YOU KNOW? I refer to it often. As we continue writing consistently, it doesn't take long for students to become willing to share their opinions in what they write. However, providing support for their opinions and ideas is something that I have to continue to encourage.

One of the conversations we return to on a fairly regular basis is what makes supporting evidence effective?

This popped up in my mind again recently when I was retooling my mini-unit on sound techniques. Because where was the first place I looked for definitions on the different types of rhyme? Wikipedia. I feel like such a fraud!

But then when I went digging through my professional books and student texts, I noticed that Wikipedia had better answers! The wiki page had more detail, more examples, and clearer explanation.

It only gets more complicated when we start trying to compare good sources of evidence. Which is more important, an author's statement of intended purpose or a reader's response to the work? how valid are interpretations based on patterns in other works by the author? based on the author's social environment? based on the current social environment?

Dana Huff touches on this in The Essentials of an Effective Writing Assignment (check out the last paragraph of the post). I'm with Gardner on this, but... it is often difficult to explain the difference in validity between a strong, well-supported interpretation and an interpretation that either has less support or has support that is weak. It's just soooo nuanced.

And it's even MORE difficult to explain how different types of support should be weighted, particularly when I haven't really worked it out in my own mind!

And don't even get me started on Steven Pinker and Jonah Lehrer. That just throws everything out of whack!

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