The Power of Argument in an English Classroom

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Last month I had the pleasure of co-teaching a class with other English instructors, which was specifically for English teachers.  The focus of the class was CCSS and Argumentative  Writing, which I thought I knew much about, but quickly learned was not necessarily the case.  I agreed to take on the challenge of helping to teach this class so I could learn more and apply that knowledge to my classroom.  Honestly, it’s been a few weeks since the class has ended and my head is still spinning with all the new information and ideas gained from the readings, conversations with other teachers and collaboration during the two weeks the class was in session.  Tonight, I sat down to start looking at my curriculum for next year and to think about how to incorporate all these new ideas and I immediately felt overwhelmed.  So, I decided to write down some of the main ideas learned during the class and why not put them into a blog post?  Here are the main ideas/thoughts/resources I need to remember and implement this upcoming school year within my English classroom:

1.  Argument Writing and finding and using textual evidence should be the main focus in a CCSS-based classroom. This is especially true if you are teaching in a PARCC state since the Performance Based Assessments (PBA’s for those who love acronyms) given in February/March are very argument heavy (though disguised in PARCC as “Literary Analysis” and “Research Simulation” rather than using the same terminology as CCSS’s “Argument”, “Explanatory/Informational”).  All require evidence-based answers to back up and validate claims.

2.  There are true differences between Persuasive and Argumentative Writing which students need to know about.  In a nutshell, Argumentative Writing needs to acknowledge the opposing point of view to be a valid argument.  Here is a handy side-by-side chart comparing Argument vs. Persuasive Writing which I will be sharing with my students this year (Thanks, Angeline for this invaluable resource): http://www.mesd.k12.or.us/si/Pennys_PortaPortal_Docs/ArgumentvsPersuasiveWriting.pdf

3.  Students need to verbally debate in class in order to apply these skills to Argumentative Writing. Dave Stuart, Jr., has created a blog called “Teaching the Core-The Non-Freaked Out Approach to Common Core Literacy” which is my go-to for all things reading, writing and speaking in regards to CCSS; you can check it out here: http://www.teachingthecore.com

This fantastic blog has resources, information about and commentary on teaching Argumentative Writing and using debate in your classroom.  Stuart is very much an advocate of teaching students how to debate in order to help them become stronger writers.  His “Articles of the Week” (tweaked from Kelly Gallagher-http://www.teachingthecore.com/resources/article-of-the-week-aow/) and ideas for having kids speak in front of others (technique called “PVLEGS”-http://www.teachingthecore.com/pvlegs-public-speaking-acronym/) are practical and doable – not simply theoretical, pie-in-the-sky techniques which sound good in theory but never work. I’ve tried many of his resources and have had much success with all of them.  Would highly recommend his blog as you venture into the world of Argument Writing and debate.

4.  There are some other great resources out there for implementing Argumentative Writing and Debate.  Here, I will list a few that I’ve found and have learned about from others:

5.  Students really struggle with explaining why the specific evidence they’ve used in their writing is important; “They Say/I Say” Templates help students to do so effectively.  We’ve all been there – students add in textual evidence to a writing piece with no explanation as to why the evidence is important to the argument.   The evidence is just dropped in the paper and sitting there awkwardly, screaming for an explanation or validation.  Well, “They Say/I Say” templates can come to the rescue.  They allow students to explain evidence and the templates have enough flexibility to allow student voice to come through without sounding mechanical or boring; this really helps students strengthen their Argumentative Writing.  Check them out here: https://docs.google.com/a/tctchome.com/document/d/1_qH6AU0qPxZLAcHEm0DZfvbxXrcR_im1gZXTqwIqKgI/edit

In addition, Dave Stuart, Jr. uses these templates with his “Articles of the Week” to have students practice pulling out textual evidence from the article to back up an opinion and explain the evidence using these templates.  Excellent strategy!

Hopefully this information will help as you begin to incorporate more Argumentative Writing and Debate into your curriculum.  As for me, I have much work to do as I tweak and change my focus this year to ensure my students are debating, backing up ideas with evidence, reading and writing frequently and becoming all-around better critical thinkers.  But, as usual, there’s never enough time in a school year to do all I feel I should, so I’m sure this time next summer I’ll still be tweaking and making changes…

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