Critiquing Evidence

By on January 5, 2013

One of the most difficult skills for us to teach, and students to learn, is to classify and, more importantly, evaluate evidence, particularly since the types of acceptable evidence, and the ways in which they are presented in visual and written texts, varies considerably depending upon the academic content area that is the focus of a class, and for other reasons, as well (See e.g., Langer, 2011). However, as a recent NCTE policy research brief notes, there are certain criteria for evidence critique that can cross disciplines, contexts, and audiences. Here is a check-list for these criteria:

  • Relevancy: Is the evidence appropriate for the discipline, the audience, the genre, and the argument itself?
  • Sufficiency: Is adequate evidence provided to support the claim? [In the sciences, the question would be: Are the data complete, appropriate, and adequate?]
  • Sourcing: Where were the sources published? Is this an appropriate journal/book/ website? Who is the author and what are his/her intentions? Or, how was the data collected? Are the research questions and methodology appropriate for the current "conversation' in the research?
  • Credibility: Is the author/researcher credible? What are his/her areas of expertise? How is this demonstrated through the evidence provided?
  • Accuracy and verifiability: Are the findings or evidence provided trustworthy? How do you know?

I have just served on a committee for an excellent M.A. thesis by an eighth grade teacher of linguistically-diverse students (Doughman, 2012) who scaffolds student analysis in an argument by isolating one kind of evidence (e.g., a brief narrative, citations of authorities, a certain type of data) and asking students first to examine the context, audiences, authors' purposes and claims of several texts. Then, using a variety of questions that focus on a check list such as the one above, the students carefully examine this one evidence type within an argument text from one content area. This approach only requires scaffolded teaching of one or two evidence types before most students become savvy evidence-critics.

A good idea? I'm going to try it.

Consider scaffolding this work with LiteracyTA's Identifying Evidence and Analyzing Evidence.


Doughman, Karen E. (2012). A rhetorical approach to teaching fiction in the middle school language arts class. Unpublished M.A. thesis, Department of Rhetoric and Writing Studies, San Diego States University.
Langer, Judith A. (2011). Envisioning knowledge; Building literacy in the academic disciplines. New York: Teachers College Press.
Using evidence in writing (A policy research brief). National Council of Teachers of English, 2011.

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We've mapped our literacy lessons and reading, speaking, and writing skills to state standards, Common Core, and NGSS. The standards are "the what" to teach. Our lessons are "the how" to meet the expectations defined by the standards. Click on the links below to view our quick reference table that maps standards to literacy lessons.

Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital resources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
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