Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Getting the facts straight

How you choose to use factual content in your assignments can make a significant impact on the relevance and value of the work.  Below are two examples.  Read each and see if you notice a difference.

Example A:  Write an essay describing the Harlem Renaissance.

In this assignment, you are basically asking students to organize a number (3-5) factual items about the Harlem Renaissance and report them back to you in essay form.  The content is THE purpose of the assignment.  There is very little in the way of critical thinking involved with this assignment as the final product is probably no more valuable than what anyone can find with a quick Internet search of "Harlem Renaissance."  Content is abundant and available, so students doing this assignment are simply reporting what someone else has already found.

Example B:  Write an essay demonstrating how the Harlem Renaissance is an example of diversity playing a role in the shaping of our national identity.

With this assignment, factual content plays a significant, but different role.  Here, the student needs to know enough about the Harlem Renaissance to form a clear thesis.  Once that idea is articulated and the direction of the paper is set, the use of factual content then serves two purposes:
  1. As evidence suggesting the thesis has merit
  2. To help clarify a claim made in support of the thesis
The purpose of the assignment in Example B is NOT the content.  Rather, the purpose is the development of the thesis (and ultimately the creation of knowledge that comes with sharing the thesis).  Content plays the important role of support system for the thesis, but is not the main objective.

In both examples, content is learned (or at least more fully understood).  However, only one of the assignments provides an opportunity for critical thinking and knowledge creation.

For the purposes of your class, which is the more valuable, relevant, and enriching assignment?
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