Scaffolding Academic Writing: Crowdsourcing The Evidence

As an English teacher I have said, "Include evidence in your essay." more often than the Math teacher down the hall has said, "Show your work." At first, getting students to actually include text evidence in their academic writing was practically a moon shot.  Some over achieving students would try, but most wouldn't bother to go back and sift through the text to find the sentence or two that supported their nebulous thesis. But now, thanks to a simple Google Form, my students gather oodles of text evidence, do a preliminary analysis of it, and create a resource they can all use.

How Evidence Gathering Works:
I've been doing this for years. The first version of this blog post was published in 2013, so this is the update. It still works beautifully. We finished reading Into The Wild and my students knew there was an essay coming. Before introducing the prompt they would be writing about, I asked students to spend a period going back through the book and selecting quotes that they felt best represented that writers ideas. Important, they did this as pairs or even triads. No one works on this alone. 

I used the form on the right for students to submit the evidence they found along with their initial analysis. You can have a copy of the form I used. It's easily adaptable to other texts. 

In itself this was a good way to have students review the key ideas in the book, but I knew the results of their efforts would soon be even more helpful to them.  A Google Form deposits the responses in a spreadsheet and that spreadsheet can be published.  I removed the student names and published their work, linking students to it in their assignment as "Spreadsheet of Collected Evidence from Into The Wild."  The next day, when I introduced the prompt, it came to them with their co-created resource of evidence.

As I modeled writing my own version of the essay, I showed students how I would go to the spreadsheet and select a piece of evidence that supported the point I was trying to make.  I showed them how to copy the quote and then use ctrl-shift-v to paste it into my essay with the same formatting as my existing writing. (The shift key makes that work and saves lots of time reformatting.) I modeled that I would paste in the quote below where I was writing, so that I could decide how best to introduce it before I added it to my paragraph. And, of course, I modeled explaining how that evidence added to my point.

The results are stunning. Students don't have to break the flow of their ideas to find the evidence that fits their need. They are excited about having a collection of quotes to choose from that are (mostly) ready to use.  I know (and so do they) that they won't always have a bank of evidence to draw from, but at least now that they have had the experience of successfully citing texts in their papers, they move on with a better understanding of how to do that in the future.  

Below are some useful points from an earlier version of this blog post.

 See an excerpt from a student paper. 

Click to see larger image
Several are already even talking about gathering evidence for writing while they read, which is why I was so pleased to see something Jim Burke posted on Twitter this morning. It is a picture of a form he is using with his students (included here with his permission).  He calls it Paragraph Notes.  It asks students to select quotes while they are reading and to interpret those quotes as well. At the bottom students use their quotes and interpretations to write a summary of the text with evidence included. The sentence frames Jim provides are taken from They Say, I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing.  (A book I highly recommend if you don't already have it.)

Including textual evidence in their writing is something students will always have to do to meet expectations. Having them co-create a resource list of possible textual evidence to use is just one scaffold we can use to support their academic writing. They won't need it for long.