Reflection: Essay Writing EBWR - Recovering the Romanovs - Section 3: Evidence Based Written Response


Many instructors are familiar with the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) and its reputation for setting the gold standard in Project-Based Learning (PBL). I was extremely fortunate to participate in a week long professional development opportunity offered by BIE and attended two workshops that truly shaped by practice in regards to the use of Evidence Based Written Response (EBWR) in my science courses. I am a huge fan of project-based learning due to the level of student ownership that ensues and continually look for ways for students to demonstrate what they have gained both academically and personally from our many projects. When students WRITE I feel I gain the most insight into the content they have mastered as well as how the project has changed their thinking. But I almost never looked forward to the piles of grading writing assignments would inevitably bring to an already full plate of lesson planning, teaching, and lab prep.

I truly appreciate the workshop presenters whose names I wish I could shout out here however I failed to record in my workshop notes. I did record a great deal of wisdom from these individuals that I hope to convey with some degree of fidelity to the original helpful messages I received during the training! 

Providing Useful Feedback on Student Writing

1. Each writing assignment should be an opportunity for students to master writing skills that are central to success in science. Oftentimes these skills do not just come naturally to our students so they must be explicitly taught before we can expect students to properly model these skills. For example, if we want students to summarize and analyze raw data or to draw conclusions based on that data which is then supported by evidence we must engage students in tasks that explicitly require the skills necessary to accomplish these objectives. (Please see lesson entitled Data Talks: Formative Assessments in Biotechnology which were inspired by this nugget of wisdom.)

2. Each writing assignment should have a clear, focused evaluation criteria which is communicated and distributed to students prior to the completion of the writing task. I choose to share the rubric with students as a post on our Edmodo course site so that it is secure yet accessible to the students in my class.

3. As seen in Anchor Paper A and Anchor Paper B, I have decided on a specific lens in which to focus my written comments. I learned that admitting that I have much to learn from my colleagues who are English teachers helped me let go of the desire to edit every mistake I find in my student's narratives unless that is the particular lens I am using to evaluate that writing sample. Instead I decide ahead of time which aspects of the writing I will focus on with each writing task. For example, early on in the semester I have chosen to direct most of my comments to the composition of strong sentences such as a thesis or concluding statement. As students progress I may change my focus to evaluating how students present claims and defend those claims as well as how they approach communicating counter-arguments.

I recall the workshop presenter emphasizing that whatever the selected focus for our written comments that it is essential to communicate to students, before they submit their writings, which aspects of the writing will be the focus of our feedback and why that aspect is important. I was hesitant to incorporate this suggestion initially. However I could not ignore that when I provided previous student samples of the kind of writing students would need to aim for being able to produce in science in addition to informing students of the specific standards, skills or aspects of the writing I would be focusing my written comments...student achievement improved dramatically!

Purposeful Student Reflection on Writing in Science

EBWR Reflection A and Reflection B illustrate the benefits of allowing students to surface their thinking about the writing tasks we completed in our Biotechnology class. Although the students have a tendency to be less candid than I would like for them to be on the evaluations or reflections in which they are asked to write their name (required only so that I can award students credit for their completed reflection), I still support the practice as one that is worthwhile and informative to both my students and for me as an instructor.

  Essay Writing: Improving Student Writing in Science with Effective Feedback and Student Reflection
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EBWR - Recovering the Romanovs

Unit 6: DNA and Detectives: Applications of Genetic Testing
Lesson 2 of 7

Objective: The objective of this lesson is to assess student mastery of concepts explored in the genetic testing lesson, Mystery of the Romanovs, in which DNA Fingerprinting confirmed the identities of various members of the historical Romanov family.

Big Idea: How can the latest in genetic testing technology be used to identify victims of a brutal crime as well as trace genetic disorders present in a family for generations?

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