Questions, Prompts, Responses, and Answers

Essay questions aren’t questions. Teachers and parents, have you noticed?    

Written in the imperative instead of the interrogative. Demanding that “your student” compare/contrast, describe, or analyze texts instead of asking.  

For example: In an extended constructed response, analyze how the author of “The Scarlet Ibis” created the protagonist’s voice through diction, imagery, and syntax.   

What happened to asking students to write instead of demanding it?   

Look, I know I am merely loud-capping a nit picky technicality, but students reward me with more positive responses when I ask them to perform as opposed to commanding them like a drill sergeant.  

Teachers still call these non-questions masquerading as inquiries questions (cringe) or call them prompts (cringe cringe).  

This teacher right here:

  1. hates to call something by a name which it isn’t,
  2. loathes the word prompt in relation to essay questions, but
  3. still uses both terms anyway because of curricular saturation.

Teachers shouldn’t “prompt” students to draft formal writing assignments. Prompting should be reserved for quickwrites, journaling, and freewriting. A prompt cannot be confident. It denotes hesitancy for composing when instead students should be self-assured, showing off skills mastered on cold read tasks. A prompt also implies needing help in answering. Calling questions prompts encourages students to say something, anything, in response even though that’s not what educators intend. Calling these writing tasks prompts is a misnomer and sends mixed messages.  

Let’s next examine response, which is interchangeable with essay. These non-questions that students answer are called extended constructed responses in Louisiana. Is it just me, or is this term repetitive? If a response is a “verbal or written answer,” is constructed needed? Constructed is implied when used in conjunction with response. Am I being obtuse? Also when using the word response, it can also mean “reaction” or reply. The state test makers don’t want students’ reactions or replies to non-fiction or literature. Emojis would litter the pages instead of sentences.   

Why can’t the pedagogical movers and shakers just call them essays? The terms needn’t be fancy. In ten years time, extended constructed responses might be rechristened:  expanded assembled discourses, prolongated shaped treatises, augmented formulated think-pieces, or enlarged engineered commentaries. Even foggier redundant phrases further befuddling students from understanding the assignment.   

Furthermore by using the words response and prompt and not asking questions, we accidentally insinuate wrong answers aren’t a big deal to students through our own or state mandated reckless verbiage–that as long as they’re writing in essay format the correct answer doesn’t matter.

Seriously. Consider this caveat:

If you look at the writing rubrics in The Big Easy, students can score well even if they don’t answer the question correctly. You heard me. As long as they support their wrong answer and satisfy other requirements sufficiently, mastery can be achieved.

I know–the state and teachers aren’t solely assessing a student’s ability to correctly answer questions through the written portion of a test. Therefore, they can’t fail on a singular parameter.

However, sending students out into the world thinking that as long as they a.) complete an assignment albeit incorrectly and b.) can support any answer even if it’s wrong is dangerous, a possible gateway drug to confuse belief with fact.

Not to mention we are preparing students for the workforce, where wrong answers aren’t welcome.  

We need to let students know what these words connote beyond academic vocabulary usage. The diction we choose to communicate with is laden with hidden emotions. Substitution doesn’t necessarily make the new better; it can change the emotion, sending hidden signals to our students. There will always be synonyms, but it’s still an essay and a question.   

Once we expose confusing academic vocabulary as optical illusions to students, then they can refocus on the main goal of all assignments:  answering questions correctly.

***All definitions on this blog were found through Google dictionary.  


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