In order write an authentic essay, reading what others have written about a subject is an important part of the input process. The cognitive, critical, and more important part is when the writer either uses or ignores what they have read, seen, or heard and then discovers new information about the subject, and then synthesizes their own viewpoint into the mix in the form of a Justified Belief or opinion, or point-of-view; what scientists call a Warranted Belief. In effect, the writer is saying I have considered everything, thought about it, consulted authoritative sources, and this is what I believe. That makes the essay more about the writer rather than the topic. Even if the topic being written about is the American Civil War, the subject of the essay is – You, the writer.  

So, the best way to become acquainted with yourself is to write. Essay writing especially is a way to discover who you are by discovering your beliefs.  

Properly executed, writing essays can be compared to looking into a mirror: what is or should be seen is an honest reflection of who the writer really is. Essay writing is best understood as a way of further understanding oneself by studying the subject matter identified in a prompt or essay question and analyzing one’s relationship to that subject matter. The rewards of this effort are immense: nothing less than a formation of one’s foundational – Justified Truthful Beliefs through critical thinking and comprehension. 

The reader of a college entrance essay does not want to hear about the Civil War. They want to hear about you, the applicant. And authenticity will shine through. A well-thought-out opinion on the conflict expressed in straightforward language will stand out, so will a beautifully written prose composition with nothing to say about the war, but for a different reason. And both will be filed appropriately.  The key is Ideation; and children already know how to ideate. 

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Excerpted from my book Hybrid Learning.