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FAQ for On-Demand Task

Just like students, our teachers have questions too, especially about the on-demand essays. Here are some of the common questions we get asked with answers from WOU faculty.

Some Process Questions

Q: When do we begin with the article readings? They said sometime by the first week of Octoberish but are we waiting for the website to be up and running?

A: You may begin with the on-demand task whenever you feel like it will fit into your syllabus. Most participants are shooting for an October date so they can have time through the term for research and revision.

Q: Do we print off the articles for the kids or do we show them how to access them on Google Docs?

A: It is your choice whether you want to provide copies to your students or access them online–depending on what your Tech Lab situation at your school is like. If you do use paper copies, please collect and save them for students to work with in classroom. Students may write on and “interact with” the articles.

Q: Do we choose 2 of the topics or do the kids choose? I thought I understood that we narrow it down to 2 topics that will fit with our curriculum, but it wasn’t real clear.

A: Teachers should choose which 2 topics they want their students working with as a curricular decision, and then once students have written the two initial responses, then STUDENTS choose (with teacher guidance) which topic they will individually move forward with for the research paper assignments.

Some Content Questions

Q: How many pages are the on-demand essays supposed to be?

A: The development group had a specific page limit in mind, but given the amount of time they have to write, a minimum of 2-3 pages seems reasonable. What’s important is that they are developing a full essay–but if they don’t get a concluding paragraph, that is not a big deal. It is meant to be a rough rough draft, so if a couple of good ideas pop out in the course of it, that would be considered a success.

The other thing is that the main thing to watch for in the on-demand task is the students’ passion and engagement with the topic, so they have something to fuel a deeper inquiry. So even if one essay response is “better” than the other, the best choice for the research essay is the one they feel excitement about even if the first attempt is muddled.

Q: My understanding is that students create a debatable thesis statement and use the article(s) to support their stance by showing that the sources are or aren’t valid. They were wondering if they were supposed to directly state “the article —- is wrong etc.” Do you have example essays or thesis statements? Also, a lot of students have been asking me if they can use pronouns, such as I or you. Of course, my first response, especially with “I” is no, but I was hoping for some guidance. Any additional information you can provide about the on-demand essay and the most important points to relay to students would be great.

A: The essays were deliberately chosen to not be “pro/con” stances on an issue, so we are not looking for black and white “I agree/I disagree with source X.” Rather we see the articles as voices in a dialogue about the issue, and we are hoping students will add their own voice to that conversation, using the articles as support, contention, or qualification where needed. It is appropriate for them to use “I” if they are relaying a personal experience as part of support or explanation. Their essays may also choose not to engage with the “central” idea or issue, but pursue a line of inquiry that is related but may seem a bit tangential. Since they will be going on to research further, these articles will be used more as launching pads into the discussion rather than the central authorities.

Ultimately, this assignment is probably more free-form than they might be used to–it’s not like an SAT or AP writing sample where they have to package “an answer.” Thoughtfulness should be valued more highly than persuasiveness at this point. While some students may be able to create an original defensible position (somewhere in the essay–even if it pops out in the conclusion), we want to emphasize that the on-demand simply asks them to start thinking about various issues they might want to explore further.

Q: I was hoping to pass out to my students the scoring rubric for the On-Demand essay.

A: The On-Demand task really should not be graded. We are hoping that teachers will treat it as a “checkmark of completion” rather than a scored piece of writing. The reason we called it a “task” rather than a “test” is that we wanted it to be as pressure-free as possible under the timed circumstances. The writing task is completely exploratory in nature, and it will not be formally assessed in the final portfolio (it will not be scored). It is there to provide a “snapshot” of the student at the beginning of the process so that we can watch their skills grow and change. What is written in the on-demand essays will not affect the passing or not passing of the portfolio–unless it is missing entirely. Even if it contains “plagiarism”–or incorrect source use–that is okay because we expect students will move beyond that. Then, in their reflective letter, they can say things like, “At first I didn’t know how to cite a source properly as you can see in my first on-demand about the achievement gap: EXAMPLE. But now I know … ”

Q:  How do I help students explore the texts for the on-demand task and, later, see how to use the on-demand task as a launching pad for inquiry?

A:  In the Process/Sequence overview, we have included ideas on how to accomplish these tasks.  The documents/scaffolds referenced in the Process/Sequence overview are located in the Resources/Documents section of the website under “Recommended Readings” and “Classroom Activities.”