The University of Texas at Austin
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Teaching Interpretation of Evidence or Critique

Recommended for early, mid-, or late semester, depending on complexity of the data set and analytical task. Adapted from John Bean’s Engaging Ideas.

Task

Students work with a data set, text, interview, or other “evidence” provided by the instructor, and write a report, essay, or article that interprets the data, draws conclusions about its meaning, and perhaps makes recommendations based on the interpretation and conclusions. You may wish to frame such an assignment as a response to a request by a boss, client, government entity, etc.

  • Students are given a portfolio of information about a dangerous intersection in town: photographs, traffic maps, links to traffic safety design protocols, and news stories about accidents at the site. They are asked to write a report for a city council member recommending specific actions that should be taken to improve safety at the intersection.
  • Students compare data on wealth inequality in the same country two centuries apart, and speculate as to the causes and effects of the change over time.
  • Students draw a “word map” of language in a scene from a play, and write an analysis of how word choice and frequency establish the tone of the scene.

Average Length: Anywhere from 2 pages up; depending on the quantity and complexity of the evidence supplied.

Providing Feedback and Guidance

When working with this type of assignment, students may benefit from a schedule in the assignment sheet, along the following lines:

  • By next week: Read all the case materials (articles, scenes, etc.).
  • By March 15: Discuss your thoughts about the data in class.
  • By March 29: Submit your rough draft to the instructor and your peer reading group.
  • By April 8: Complete peer review and discuss with group.
  • By April 15: Submit revised draft for final grade.

Grading

In addition to clarity of writing, grading criteria for this assignment should address the facility with which students manipulate data, the accuracy of their conclusions, and the extent to which they can extrapolate from a limited data set to larger concepts.

You can also adapt one of the rubrics available on the Grading Rubrics page, such as this scaled analytical rubric.