Skills for writing in Education

Many Education assignments ask you to relate observations you make in practicum settings to the theory you have learnt about in class.

The materials in this tutorial are based on a first-year Education assessment task.

Work through them to learn more about meeting your lecturer's expectations and developing your own writing skills in this kind of assignment.

When you have finished, see how a student used her skills in an essay, and her lecturer's comments on what she wrote.

Skills for writing in Education

Interpreting observations

Many assessment tasks (like the one presented in this module) ask students to interpret observations they have made during a professional placement, relating them to ideas discussed in their lectures and readings. It is important to combine observation and interpretation, and not just describe what you saw. But it can be easy to confuse observations (the raw material) with the analysis and interpretations of them (the sense you make of the observations). You can refine your ability to manage observation data, interpretation and theory by working through these activities.

Observation and interpretation

Some interpretations we make are like observations. These are common-sense interpretations, where we usually present the interpretation as if it were an observation, and there is no need to support the interpretation with evidence or explanation. For example, we might say:

The children were excited at the start of the excursion.

Here we are interpreting the children's behaviour but don't need to describe it, since there is wide agreement about what kind of behaviour indicates excitement.

Activity

Look at the following statements. Which is an observation, which a common-sense interpretation, and which a theory-based interpretation? Select your response from the options.

In everyday life we are always interpreting events, and we usually draw on common sense to do this. But in academic assignments, much of our interpretation is based on the theories we are learning about.

Which of the following interpretations do you think draw on common-sense beliefs, and which draw on more sophisticated theoretical models?

Activity

Indicate whether each observation and interpretation is common-sense based or theoretically based.

Making the best interpretation

There may be a number of relevant theories we can draw on to interpret data. No one theory is the "correct" one, although we may believe that one theory enables us to make a more comprehensive, consistent and coherent interpretation than the others do. The confidence we have in our interpretation will be reflected in the language that we use. 

Where does the author of the following text show how confident she is in the explanation she is suggesting? Click on the bold text for more information:


In mental maths, I observed a very high level of interest and motivation, where students appeared enthusiastic and willing to participate. It was evident that students were more motivated when they worked in teams than when they worked alone. One possible explanation for this is that teamwork increases children's confidence in their own ability to complete a task. They develop an 'internal locus of control' and this has been found to increase an individual's motivation when approaching a task (Rotter, 1966).

Activity

Look at the following explanations. Each one reflects a different degree of commitment by the writer to the explanation made. Place them in order with 1 being that with the greatest degree of commitment and 5 being that with the least degree of commitment.

Analysing from theory

Your observations will have different meanings when considered in light of different theoretical approaches and models, but we cannot assume that any particular interpretation discloses the "truth" about the observations. However, once you have adopted a certain theoretical model, some observations may take on quite clear and unmistakable meanings. Such certainty can arise when the data we observe falls within the definition of a theoretical term. If you are confident that within one theoretical framework the data has a clear meaning, your language may reflect that certainty. Thus, you might say:

The children's slowness to respond shows that deep processing is not yet part of their learning.

However, when there is less certainty, and this is especially so when attempting to give reasons for the phenomenon we observe, you might write:

The children's slowness to respond suggests that deep processing is not yet part of their learning.

The following activity shows how a student introduces a theoretical perspective and makes an analysis drawing on that framework.

In the extract, the writer brings together observations, theory and explanations. How does she do it?

Activity

The extract has been divided into three parts. In each part, the writer is presenting a stage in her analysis. After you read each passage, choose the answer which corresponds to the stage it represents.

In the application of the theory to the observations, the writer says "When working in groups, these students demonstrated an 'internal locus of control'." There are no doubts about what was demonstrated. What justifies this certainty?

A person's confidence in his or her own resources to deal with a task constitutes "an internal locus of control". Within this theoretical framework this behaviour takes on a clear meaning. However, this does not imply that this is the only way of accounting for these observations. The writer marks this when she introduces her outline of the theoretical concept with "The confidence a student feels can be understood in terms of 'locus of control'."

Being logical

It is important that the logic of your interpretation is clear. Look at the following extract from a student's reflective report:

Activity

Click on the icons below to reveal more information.