Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

Search
MENU

Teach Your Students to Argue Effectively

TML_7_3Have you ever met anyone with uninformed opinions? Didn’t it make you want to explode (or at the very least, lament the decline of mankind by eating pie)? Reasoning is one of our most powerful assets. As teachers, we have the opportunity to prepare students for a good old-fashioned banter. We need to teach students how to effectively argue so that they can engage in productive thinking and be active citizens of their communities. Otherwise, we are at risk for producing students who limit their own learning potential by focusing on regurgitation versus critical thinking.

First, take a minute to read the CCSS Anchor Standards for Writing as it pertains to argument:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

When we argue, we are assuming a position with the purpose of persuading readers or rather, convincing them of our opinion; this is active work, work that requires agency on the part of the writer. This agency is what 21st century literacies demand of its citizens; for example, Franklin and van Harmelan (2007) write, “In Web 1.0 a few content authors provided content for a wide audience of relatively passive readers. However, in Web 2.0 everyday users of the web use the web as a platform to generate, re-purpose, and consume shared content” (3). Argument writing is a tool that enables and empowers students to participate in and contribute to various discourses.

Argument writing pushes students to go beyond just knowing content; it forces them to actually do something with the content. Arguing requires students to ground their thinking in evidence from the text; in fact, this evidence-grounding is one of the main instructional shifts in English Language Arts. Teachers need to spend more instructional time teaching argument writing, which encompasses teaching students how to opine and how to write persuasive texts.

Let’s consider the discipline of history: We want students to go beyond just reciting facts and dates; we want them to make historical arguments and interpretations. We also want them to become adept at using textual evidence to support their claims. Historians and social scientists actively study and inquire – they do not just regurgitate facts; they examine the evidence and create claims based on the evidence. We need to help students understand that data is a live entity and that it requires our careful and critical reading and crafting. (Questions like, “Whose history is being represented here?” and “Why is this history being told in this way?” help build students’ inquiry skills which promotes their argumentation skills.)

This semester, I asked my pre-service teachers (graduate students) to write a historical argument paper. Because of the CCSS’s emphasis on argument writing, I wanted to make sure that my graduate students knew how to create arguments since they would be required to teach their students how to do the same. The process for this task is outlined below: 

Steps and Tasks: Prompts and Instructions

1. Pick a topic: What do you want to study?

2. Design your inquiry question: Narrow your topic. This question should guide your research and examine your topic deeply. Consider specific perspectives and lenses.

3. Conduct research: Guided by your inquiry question, conduct research. Critically read primary and secondary sources.

4. Craft a claim or argument: The claim is essentially the answer to your inquiry question as a result of your research. It is important to craft your claim/argument after conducting research so that your thinking is driven by the data. This claim needs to be arguable, meaning someone can deny your claim and argue an opposite point.

5. Provide examples: Use research data to support your claim/argument. Craft examples so that they prove your point. Use linking words and phrases and be explicit about how your example connects to your claim/argument.

6. Craft a conclusion: Answer the question, “So what?” Your conclusion should not be a regurgitation or restatement of your points. This is your closing argument like in a court case. Connect to a bigger issue. Address implications.

 

Need more ideas? Find several resources to help teach argument writing on the Annenberg Learner website:

REFERENCES:

Franklin, T. & Harmelan, M. van (2007). Web 2.0 for content for learning and teaching in higher education. York, UK: Franklin Consulting.

CCSS website: www.corestandards.org

Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands Hosts a Meeting Between East and West

Home_MainImage_SunnylandsThis week U.S. President Barack Obama will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Annenberg Estate Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California.  The estate was the winter home of Ambassador Walter and Leonore Annenberg and has recently been re-established as a retreat for high-level meetings such as this one.

What will the two leaders talk about?  The press suggests that cyber security will be high on the list of topics, as well as global international hot spots.  But before the two men get to those subjects, they will no doubt spend time admiring the beauty of the estate, its gardens, and the numerous works of art that the Annenbergs had collected over the years. 

They might admire the Annenbergs’ collection of Chinese porcelain. See an example here. View a museum quality porcelain plate from the Tang dynasty and learn how the Chinese artisans made porcelain that was copied worldwide but never equaled in our online resource Art Through Time: A Global View.

No doubt Presidents Obama and Xi will discuss global as well as domestic economic matters.  In discussions of this sort it is helpful to have a grasp of similar issues both countries face.  The Power of Place: Geography for the 21st Century provides a case study of two Chinese cities on the physical and cultural frontiers of the country: Lanzhou and Shenyang. This case study turns up familiar themes from cities in transition — an influx of foreigners, urbanization, and industrialization.

When it is time to relax, the leaders might enjoy watching the antics of a classic and beloved Chinese cultural figure: the Monkey King, depicted in the tale Journey to the West, which was regarded in China as one of the great masterpieces of its era, according to Harvard Professor of Comparative Literature David Damrosch.  They can watch a video on the work that is part of the series Invitation to World Literature and hear from some of the foremost scholars and artists on the story’s longevity and influence through the ages.

Since security will be tight at the meeting, you can visit Learner.org and immerse yourself in Chinese art, literature, and geography and savor the parts of the historic meeting that didn’t make the headlines.

A Jazz Festival in Your Classroom

World of Music_jazzAs the weather warms, jazz festivals will be springing up all over. Why not celebrate spring and Jazz Appreciation Month this April by holding a jazz festival in your classroom? A key word search for “jazz” on learner.org returns a host of resources that you can use to guide your students to appreciate this uniquely American musical genre and to understand its influence on culture here and around the world.

For example, American Passages: A Literary Survey, unit 11, “Modernist Portraits,” describes the dramatic social and cultural changes that Americans experienced during the years between World War I and World War II.  Jazz provided the soundtrack for these changes and had a profound influence on visual artists, poets, and novelists who sought to capture its images and rhythms. Use the American Passages archives to find audio and visual artifacts from the Jazz Age that illustrate the innovation and energy of musicians and writers such as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Jacob Lawrence.

Try asking students how structure, improvisation, and collaboration—aspects of jazz adopted by so many artists working during the modernist period—can be applied in their world. The Problem-Based Learning activities included in unit 11 could be presented as a way to put a jazz spin on collaborative projects in school.

Jazz up this historical exploration by inviting a local performer or your school’s jazz ensemble to play for your students and to discuss the unique interaction of structure, improvisation, and collaboration in jazz. Or check out Exploring the World of Music, program 11, “Composers and Improvisers.”  At 9:09 you’ll find a great discussion from saxophonist Joshua Redman about the role of improvisation in jazz. In program 10, “The Shape of Music,” the segment that begins at 8:52 illustrates why collaboration is essential to improvisation in a group performance.

What are other ways to use jazz to inspire learning in the classroom? I’d love to hear your improvisations!

 

Langston Hughes in Focus

LangstonHughes_Teaching Multicultural Lit_6

Writer Langston Hughes believed that art should be accessible to all. He used his poetic voice to speak to all Americans about racial, political, and economic justice. Biographer Arnold Rampersad wrote of Hughes, “His art was firmly rooted in race pride and race feeling, even as he cherished his freedom as an artist…” Use the following resources to introduce students to Hughes’ life and works, and to inspire students to use poetry and art as a means to both explore their heritage and call for public attention to larger issues within their communities.

 

  • See Teaching Multicultural Literature, workshop 6, “Historical and Cultural Context – Langston Hughes and Christopher Moore.” Stanlee Brimberg’s 7th graders learn about the experiences of African slaves in early New York, examine texts by Hughes, and create postage stamps to commemorate the African Burial Ground Memorial.
  • View the hour-long video on Langston Hughes in Voices & Visions.  Interviews, music, and dance performances convey his work and influence, discussed by James Baldwin and biographer Arnold Rampersad.
  • Hughes is a featured poet in the video for American Passages, unit 10, “Rhythms in Poetry.” Discover more about the author’s life and work and find teaching tips and questions for classroom study of Hughes’ poetry.

 

Exploring African-American Culture Through Slavery’s Sorrow Songs

AmPass_7_sorrowsongs_blogBlack History Month is a great time to celebrate the achievements of African-American writers, artists, musicians, scientists, and religious and political leaders. It’s also a great time to learn about and reflect on the historical and cultural contexts from which these achievements emerged. One way is to take a journey into the rich and vibrant culture that developed in African-American slave communities in the face of horrific oppression and adversity.

For example, a close look at slave spirituals called Sorrow Songs reveals an awe-inspiring story of hope, collaboration, ingenuity, and an unstoppable hunger for freedom.

The Sorrow Songs are not the songs played by slave musicians at an owner’s social gathering and they’re not the hymns sung during formal church services. Nor are they the great slave narratives of Frederick Douglas and Harriet Jacobs, written to galvanize the abolitionist cause. Most slaves would not have been able to read the narratives even if they had access to them.

Instead, the Sorrow Songs were created collaboratively by the slave community for the slave community. They were current events bulletins and teaching tools. How did the community know that many escaped slaves were crossing into the Union? “Many Thousands Gone.How did a runaway avoid being detected by dogs? “Wade in the Water.” How did the word get out about a secret meeting? “Steal Away to Jesus. The songs connected European Christian imagery with the slaves’ spiritual values. They poked fun at the masters and eased labor. In other words, in a depraved world where humans were allowed to own humans, the slaves created beauty and meaning that they alone owned. “Slavery and Freedom,” unit 7 of American Passages: A Literary Survey,  provides context and content for this exploration.

Find ideas for connecting this remarkable story to other aspects of slave community culture or to the emergence of gospel and jazz music in the unit’s Author Activities page. Students could try collaborating on music and lyrics for a Sorrow Song of their own or revise an existing song to reflect a current event. Students may also make connections to how other oppressed groups have used music or other arts to subvert oppressors.

What stories from Black History will you be exploring with your students this month?

Black History Month 2012: We Celebrate Women Writers

During Black History Month,  we pause and reflect on the contributions of great African Americans. This year the theme is “Black Women in American Culture and History.” In this space, we provide resources to help you teach about women who have made significant contributions to African-American literature. American Passages features several writers who have contributed to and commented on American culture and history.

Read the remarkable stories of educated enslaved woman such as Phillis Wheatley and Harriet Jacobs.  Phillis Wheatley became a published poet writing about Christianity and liberty. Unit 4, “Spirit of Nationalism,” tells how Wheatley’s mistress recognized her intelligence and oversaw her education. Harriet Jacobs, another enslaved woman who was taught to read, escaped from the plantation and eventually fled to the North. She wrote about her own experiences of exploitation and escape in order to bring awareness to the mistreatment of enslaved women. Read about her in unit 7, “Slavery and Freedom.”

Provide your students with different perspectives of the black experience in America by introducing them to writer Zora Neale Hurston. Much to the dismay of her peers such as Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, who wrote about the oppression and degradation of black people, Hurston wrote to promote a vision of “racial health – a sense of black people as complete, complex, undiminished human beings.” See unit 13, “Southern Renaissance.”

Develop your students’ critical thinking skills using the Author Questions for Gwendolyn Brooks. You can find questions such as “What do Brooks’s poems suggest about the special challenges of being an African-American poet in a time when many other genres and media compete for attention?” and additional activities for this author in American Passages, unit 14, “Becoming Visible.”

Alice Walker meaningfully uses images of quilts in several of her works, including “The Color Purple” and “Everyday Use.” After examining the literary purposes of this household object in Walker’s work, guide students in their own search for identity using activities that discuss family heirlooms. For information on Walker, read American Passages, unit 16, “Search for Identity.” Click on Author Activities to find activities for teaching about Walker and her story “Everyday Use.”
Hear a reading and discussion of her poem “Revolutionary Petunias” in Conversations in Literature, workshop 6, Objectifying the Text” (35:08 minutes in).

In 1993, Toni Morrison became the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize. Read about Morrison’s work in American Passages, unit 16, “Search for Identity.” Use activities and discussion questions provided to teach her short story, Recitatif, which challenges the human urge to categorize people.

The program In Search of the Novel, “Ten Novelists,” provides links to biographical information about Morrison.