Core in the classroom: Write and cite

Common Core has students writing and citing “textual evidence,” reports Sarah Carr for the Hechinger Report.

BELLE CHASSE, La. — In the early elementary school grades, Zachary Davis and his classmates at Belle Chasse Primary School in  suburban New Orleans wrote almost entirely from personal experience: describing their ideal vacation, trying to convince readers that a longer school year would be a good (or bad) idea, penning a letter about their adventures during summer break.

This year, as a fourth-grader, Zachary writes persuasive essays using “evidence” from nonfiction reading. For example, students “read a description of Louisiana’s Avery Island followed by one of a bayou swamp tour, and then wrote about which destination they would prefer to visit based on examples in the passages.” 

Proponents of the change say an increased emphasis on analytical, evidence-based assignments will better prepare students for the kind of writing they will face in college and the workforce, where few will be asked to describe family vacations or write poems, but they could very well be asked to summarize a research paper or defend a project proposal. Others worry that if schools veer too far in the direction of analytical writing at too young an age, they risk stifling children’s creativity and discouraging students who aren’t strong readers.

The “intense focus on text-based analysis is new,” said Shelley Ritz, principal of Belle Chasse Primary.

The school still teaches creative and narrative writing, but teachers expect new core-aligned tests will require students to write essays based on multiple reading passages. (The state’s transitional exam did just that.)

In keeping with the new standards, Belle Chasse teachers have gone to a 50-50 split between fiction and nonfiction readings. “Kindergarteners might read a non-fiction book about the life cycle of butterflies and moths paired with a fictional one featuring those insects as characters,” writes Carr.

In Zachary’s class, students practiced writing essays for the state exam, but protested when they learned they’d be doing more writing in social studies and science. 

The class had just finished a citizenship unit where they learned how citizens of all ages can contribute ideas to improve their communities. So the students said they wanted to write a letter to Gov. Bobby Jindal protesting all the writing required in Louisiana’s public schools these days.

Teacher Mary Beth Newchurch agreed. After all, it was another chance to practice writing.

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  1. cranberry says:

    Sounds like test prep to me.

    Do the articles given to students for these exercises fit into an overarching curriculum? Or is it endless iterations of 5-paragraph persuasive essays, based on newspaper clippings?

    • palisadesk says:

      “Do the articles given to students for these exercises fit into an overarching curriculum?”

      I can’t speak for Louisiana, but this “write and cite” emphasis — requiring young children to back up their statements with “evidence from the text” is NOT new at all and has been perhaps gaining momentum, but I’ve seen it in classrooms for at least the last 10 years, probably earlier, but now it’s in virtually all of them, because the tests do require it in essay-type questions.

      But it doesn’t start, as in Zack’s class, in 4th grade — it starts much earlier. I haven’t seen it in K (but I don’t spend much time in K); however it’s a regular feature of 1st-3rd grade classes and beyond.

      In my last two schools, I have seen this kind of “test prep” integrated into the curriculum; thus, if students were studying native Americans they might be given reading passages about a particular tribal culture/group and asked to explain, using evidence from the text, which of several ecosystems/biospheres they had studied in science might be most appropriate for the group in question. IOW, efforts are made to incorporate this kind of reasoning/reading/writing assignment into the regular subjects, including science and social studies, not just reading and writing. In fact about the only way to cover the vast number of “expectations” or “standards” is to combine subject areas and integrate them, because instructional time is limited and it takes young children considerable time to read, reflect, organize, and write.

  2. I don’t think much of the 4th-grade example; it
    really isn’t academic in nature. By that time, kids should be able to use several academic sources (even children’s encyclopedias, nature books etc) to write about the birds/reptiles etc. of Avery Island or the bayous – or the equivalent history, geography etc.

    • I particularly object to the “all about me and my feelings” approach; leave it for keeping diaries, on kids’ own time.