What’s a constructed response?

Constructed responses, like so many other terms, have become standard with the spread of the Common Core Curriculum.  But what are they?

They are written answers—not multiple choice answers or matching answers or fill in the blank answers, but written answers, usually one paragraph long.  To give a constructed response means students need to respond to a question or prompt with an answer they have “constructed” or built from information in their head, or in a text, or from research.

For example, for a second grader answering the question “Who is President of the United States?” a constructed response could be “Joe Biden is President of the United States.”

Rarely though is a constructed response so simple.  A prompt might ask students to explain the water cycle.  A student would need to write several sentences using the words “evaporation,” “condensation,” and “precipitation” to construct an acceptable answer.

Some teachers give detailed instructions for the responses they will accept.  For example, students might be required to respond to a text in four sentences.  The first sentence would need to name the text, author, and other significant information.  The second sentence would need to contain an assertion by the student concerning the text.  The third sentence would need to quote or paraphrase evidence from the text which supports the assertion in the previous sentence.  The fourth sentence would need to explain how the quoted text supports the assertion.

Constructed responses are required across the curriculum—in social studies, science and even math courses.  In the years prior to the introduction of the Common Core, many non-ELA teachers did not require written responses from their students.  They relied on the English teachers for that.  I worked with several social studies teachers who tested only using multiple choice tests.  A whole class’s answers, on Scantron cards, could be scored in two minutes.

Constructed responses take time to grade.  Teachers don’t like to grade them.  Yet the careers of students, especially college graduates, may require written responses.  This past weekend I edited a two-page constructed response of a phone app developer who needed to explain a project from start to finish—in sentences, using proper grammar.  Another time I edited part of a book on data mining by a mathematician.  It’s not just English teachers who need to write.

Constructed response is a new term for an old idea:  responding in writing.

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