Describe, Persuade or Analyze – Non-fiction Writing Strategy

Non-fiction WritingCurriculum demands on 21st century students encourage the use of thinking strategies to enhance deeper understanding of concepts and knowledge, in the teaching and learning which occurs in classrooms. 21st century students increasingly use electronic media and the internet for searches and discussions.

It cannot be assumed that information found through electronic media and the internet is truly objective and or that information sourced from the web is factually correct. In the past, editorial conventions ensured a degree of objectivity and rigor in content in the media. This is not necessarily the case today.

Students need the skills to judge and analyze the information they find and they need these skills at an earlier age than previous generations of students.

A Strategy for Improving Student Achievement

In a recent edition of the The Australian Educational Leader, the Journal for the Australian Council for Educational Leaders, Dr. Douglas Reeves, of the Leadership and Learning Center, listed an interesting strategy amongst tips to improve student achievement in elementary (primary) schools. He suggested that schools create a goal for more non-fiction writing in which students describe, persuade or analyze in EVERY topic at least once per month.

This is a simple idea embedded within the complexity of the thinking skills encouraged. Schools might adopt this strategy and link it into their own educational philosophy for teaching, learning and review. What critical skills are needed here?

Describe, Persuade and Analyze - a non-fiction writing strategy

  • Describe: In Bloom's Taxonomy of Thinking Skills (revised), "describe" would require students to use lower order skills within the remembering, comprehension and application cognitive levels. "Describe" would also require students to use a surface approach to learning where the focus would be on the recall of information. Here students would practise and use basic, but, critical levels of thinking. So, in the science areas, a student might describe the habitats of various animals found in a particular area (recall of facts, remembering, application of information and so on).
  • Persuade: In order to persuade someone to one's way of thinking, critical thinking is an important skill as it enables students to:
  1. define and clarify problems
  2. judge information related to problems
  3. solve problems and draw conclusions

A thinking strategy such as Plus, Minus, Interesting (PMI) could be applied to broaden students thinking about the issues involved. So, in a problem related to a pressing school related issue such as rough play in the schoolyard, students could apply the critical thinking process, or the PMI, to write a persuasive argument about the problem.

  • Analyze: In Bloom's revised schema, of course, "Analysis" is the first of the higher order thinking skills before evaluation and synthesis. "Analysis" is also one of the skills, or abilities, necessary when applying deeper approaches to learning in the search for understanding of concepts and materials. So a student could analyze an aspect of a topic by breaking the information into parts and show an understanding of the relationship between the parts as in: Analyze the problems faced by early explorers in finding the spice route.

Suggested Implementation Process

In teaching and learning, the "HOW" has become far more important than the "WHAT." By using this simple schema, "Describe, Persuade, Analyze," regularly across all topics studied in the previous month and rotating the use of each action, schools could improve the non-fiction writing skills of students and ensure that curriculum topics and concepts are understood. More importantly students regularly practice critical thinking skills in context. This is a major element in developing deeper levels of understanding

A diary could be set aside to record the writing so students retain a permanent record of the work produced. These could be collected randomly by senior administration, such as curriculum specialists within the school. A peer review process, using a teacher constructed form and collected by the teacher, would give teachers a guide to the progress of students when reviewing the written work by a class.

Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking is one of the important skills all children need to help them evaluate and understand material they use. In primary schools, we expect our students to engage in research and discussions from an early age. We expect them to interact with information and to display understanding. In fact, we have moved from an acceptance of surface learning where rote acquisition of facts was the norm to insisting that our students use deeper learning approaches and deep thinking strategies to ensure that understanding is attained. We cannot expect students to somehow acquire these skills without active interaction and intervention by teachers.

This non-fiction writing strategy, "Describe, Persuade, Analyze," is a simple idea which could be easily implemented with potentially powerful impacts on student achievement.