Connecting writing assessment with critical thinking: An exploratory study of alternative rhetorical functions and objects of enquiry in writing prompts

Fulan LIU, Paul STAPLETON

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

This exploratory study investigated the effects of prompts on students’ writing performance and critical thinking. Two groups of Chinese undergraduates (n = 129) responded to two distinct prompts with differing rhetorical functions and objects of enquiry. The comparison group responded to a conventional prompt modelled after prompts in high-stakes English tests which tend to converge over narrow ranges, while the experimental group responded to a prompt with problem-solving as the main rhetorical function, and behavioral economics as the object of enquiry. Various differences were noted between the two sets of essays related to standardized indexes of writing quality, as well as other rhetorical and linguistic features including: use of metadiscourse, essay organization, and use of certain lexical items. The comparison group outperformed the experimental one in several aspects of writing. However, the experimental group generated more diverse language and displayed enhanced critical thinking. We argue that the washback of high-stakes tests may result in a better performance in some respects in students’ responses to conventional prompts. However, this may also reflect a cookie-cutter response to such prompts that arrives at the expense of a whole range of ignored rhetorical functions and objects of enquiry, some of which may stimulate increased critical thinking. Copyright © 2018 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10-20
JournalAssessing Writing
Volume38
Early online dateSep 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018

Citation

Liu, F., & Stapleton, P. (2018). Connecting writing assessment with critical thinking: An exploratory study of alternative rhetorical functions and objects of enquiry in writing prompts. Assessing Writing, 38, 10-20. doi: 10.1016/j.asw.2018.09.001

Keywords

  • Writing prompt
  • Rhetorical function
  • Object of enquiry
  • Writing performance
  • Critical thinking

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