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Balance Evidence v. Elaboration in Reading Responses

November 19, 2018

After reading multiple texts on a standardized assessment, students are asked to synthesize ideas and generate a long, extended response. Each idea or reason needs to be developed into its own paragraph with supporting details from the text.

This combination of information is essential. Sentences that focus on revealing details from the text are referred to as “evidence” in the rubric. But all the sentences that reveal the student’s thinking, synthesis, and explanation are labeled as “elaboration.”

To support students with the balance of these two pieces of information, many schools introduce a formula. Although formulaic or recipe writing isn’t endorsed in most contexts, it does serve a significant function for this unique type of academic writing. A formula helps students communicate essential information clearly, succinctly, and in an organized way.

Popular formulas for such situations include the RACE and Yes, MA’AM acronyms. Both options generate paragraphs that include a topic sentence/inference, textual evidence, and explanation. Achieving a balance of evidence and elaboration is imperative to score well. The student must root his thinking in details from the text; inferences alone don’t pass.

However, too much evidence, and not enough elaboration demonstrates the student was just summarizing and repeating information. That is why the “E” in RACE and the second “M” in MA’AM is so important. The final sentence is where they explain in their own words how the text supports their reasoning. This is part of the “elaboration” element scoring rubrics require.

The takeaway here is not to teach a formula. It’s the importance of helping students respond to text with a balance of their own ideas and explanation (i.e., elaboration) with support from the provided texts and authors (i.e., evidence).

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