Equity & Access Professional Learning Teacher Inquiry

Wise Eyes: Prompting for Meaningful Student Writing


In this monograph, we explore what it takes to frame a writing task that will motivate students and lead them to show off what they can really do. Our focus is on tasks that may not have the benefit of classroom support or scaffolding; for example, those intended to gauge the effectiveness of lessons, programs, or student accomplishments. That is, we want to understand how to design a writing prompt for situations when the teacher cannot otherwise elaborate on or repair the instructions.

The job of creating such a prompt is loaded with exasperating contradictions. How is it possible, for example, to provide clear, concise directions and at the same time give enough guidance so that students know what constitutes success? Is choice important? If so, how much and what kind? To what extent is it helpful to spell out audience and purpose? What do we mean by authenticity?

To address these perplexing issues and others, we have selected a variety of professionals—researchers, policymakers, and teachers—to weigh in on principles and practices that provide a basis for adopting, adapting, or designing effective prompts. In addition, we offer examples of promising prompts as well as those that limit students in some way.