Over the past week it was hard to ignore Lance Armstrong. Interviews, articles, threats from the USADA, Armstrong’s “I give” statement. All of it was a constant reminder that heroes are capable of failure or worse that heroes might not even exist. I still felt sad and I never wore a yellow LIVE STRONG bracelet.
Doping isn’t new. An athlete disappointing his fans isn’t new either. But the moral and ethical dilemma of an event like this is a good place, as many of you begin the year, to have your students discuss the role of sports and “heroes” in our culture. It offers students the opportunity to read, critically think, construct essential questions and wrestle with their own opinions.
Use Lance Armstrong to frame the discussion. Ask that they construct their own essential questions about athletes, sports and our cultural relationship to both. Then have them read Linton Weeks’ piece on NPR entitled “When a Hero Lets Us Down.” Ask that they SOAPSTone and then discuss as a class the “complexity” of sports heroes within our culture.
Later this week we’ll talk about how to take this opening discussion and turn it into a writing assignment, classroom debate or AP Language and Composition style exercise. For now, poll your students. Determine if moments like this really still make us feel sad.
Teenagers are so used to arguing with people; they’d make great lawyers…if only they could better identify the nature of arguments. To make them better at convincing their parents to stay out past curfew, students need a lot of help getting to the implicit argument. However, if you are looking for a new way to inspire students to analyze an argument, consider asking them to study court cases. Read more
When it comes to writing with style a lot of students defer to clichéd topics.
They might write about a first love and use sweeping language. They might write about a time when they felt defeated (like from being cut from a sports team) and have a piece rife with hyperbole. Or they might describe their favorite holiday and use a sentimental (aka sappy and underdeveloped) tone. However, I don’t blame the students. Many times the reason for maudlin writing is because of the prompts we provide them. In their defense, it is challenging to write about a favorite memory without sounding contrived or unsophisticated. Give them a more meaningful reason for writing and it will become more purposeful. Having students write opening and closing arguments for existing court cases is a great way to get students more engaged in their writing because they are writing to save someone’s life. Read more
I hate math. I really do. I have a hard time multiplying any number past 7. So much of my dislike of math is that I struggle to see its purpose in my life. Why do I need to know the quadratic equation? When will it ever impact my life? However, I finally saw some meaning when my teachers would offer word problems, like “you are 90 miles away from the nearest town. Your car gets 23 miles to the gallon. How many gallons of gas will you have gone through when you get to the town?” While I still had a hard time with basic arithmetic, I liked the applicability of these problems. They made math seem more common place and useful in my world. Read more
Friday Dialogue from
Your Two Favorite Educators
As Emily and Aubrey look back over the week they use their razor sharp wit to break down why “Call Me, Maybe” is the greatest song ever.
1.) What do you like the most about teaching argument and persuasive writing?
Aubrey: If I could teach some version of the AP Language and Composition argument prompt all year I would die happy. I love that the evidence is always different. I love that you can use the classical argument structure. I love that you don’t have to just know literature. You have to know EVERYTHING. I also think it can be the most complex to teach since it relies on the student to pull evidence from their own knowledge base. Scary. Still, it forces students to contemplate the world as a mosaic. Read more
Sometimes an argument is like a really good sale. You look at it. You feel it. You are enamored by its flash and pizzazz. In fact, sometimes it looks so good you have a hard time recognizing the snag in the stitching, or the small stain on the lapel, or the poor fit in the bust. Yeah. That’s what happens when we are won over simply by the appearance of it. The flaws are unseen by the common eye. While it pains me to admit it, I am the common eye and always buy the “really good deal, I promise” even if I’ll never wear the dress because color-blocking doesn’t work on my body type. Read more
Writing an argument is a lot like putting together a puzzle. The image itself might be beautiful. However, if unable to put the pieces together effectively then the image doesn’t matter. The same is true with writing a persuasive essay. Yesterday I presented ways to help students develop a deeper understanding of an argument. However, it doesn’t matter how solid their argument is if they can’t effectively communicate it. While it is important to teach students how to have a developed argument, it is equally important to teach them how to structure it. One of the most effective ways to do this is to teach students to follow one of the key argument structures:
- Classical Argument Scheme
- Rogerian Argumentation
- Toulmin Model
Regardless of which argument scheme you use, the key is to engage your students in meaningful inquiry about the structure. A lot of teachers introduce the key components of the scheme and then provide students with a sample persuasive essay asking them to recognize and annotate those components in the text. This is absolutely a fine way to introduce the argument structure, but there are a lot of ways to deepen this knowledge and get students to produce better, more authentic versions of their argument.
- Some teachers argue that teaching students the various argument structures creates formulaic essays. While I think there is some merit to this claim, consider introducing this concept to students by stressing that experienced rhetoricians might stray from the formal structure. Provide them a persuasive piece that might not clearly address all components of the argument scheme your students are familiar with. Similar to the above described commonly used strategy, have students read the piece identifying which components the writer does utilize. Then, engage them in a discussion about why the omitted components are missing. Have students evaluate the effects of not fully following the form. Ask them to pretend they are editors and they must provide suggestions to enhance the argument. Depending on the piece provided, some might argue that the rebuttal isn’t necessary while others might suggest including the rebuttal would strengthen the overall persuasiveness. This can lead to a healthy discussion about the choices rhetoricians make, which will hopefully translate into their own writing.
- Another way to use persuasive writing to teach the structure of an argument is to study the persuasive essay yourself, labeling and identifying which paragraphs are using which component of the argument structure you have taught. For example, if teaching the Classical Argument Scheme I would label one paragraph as including the confirmation, one for including the refutation, etc. Then, cut the essay so each paragraph is on its own piece of paper, like a puzzle piece. Provide students with an envelope that contains the contents of the argumentative essay. Ask students to read through each paragraph determining which aspect of the argument structure is most prevalently highlighted. This is something they should be able to do with relative ease. However, up the ante by asking them to rearrange the paragraphs like a puzzle, evaluating how the order of the paragraphs (and the different components of the argument structure) affects the way the argument is perceived. Have students debate the correct order of the paragraphs and consider which organization they think is most effective in communicating the argument.
- Lastly, before teaching students a specific argument structure have them construct an argument. You might have them respond to an ACT, SAT, or GRE writing prompt or possibly partner the argument with a text they have read (i.e. writing their own declaration after reading and studying “The Declaration of Independence”). Then, while teaching them the various elements of the argument structure have them recognize which of the devices they use naturally in drafting their arguments. Then, have the students revise their writing enhancing the components.
Students respond well to each of the argument schemes (Classical, Rogerian, and Toulmin). However, the key isn’t which structure you teach them; it is how well you teach them.
Students think they know arguments. However, just like when they read fiction, students have a hard time moving beyond a superficial reading of a text. If anything, I sometimes think they are worse at extracting an argument from a persuasive essay because of the personal nature of it. Students think that, since it is their own opinion they don’t need to develop it. Common saying: “This is it. This is my argument. This is all I intended it to be. Don’t read into it.” But that isn’t good enough. To be taken seriously as a rhetorician students need to finely craft their argument and make sure it is multi-layered. This comes through reading and studying arguments extensively, but it is a skill that can be taught through practice. Read more
Here is a syllogism for you:
- Major premise: Teenagers love to talk.
- Minor premise: Teenagers always have an opinion.
- Conclusion: Teenagers love to share their opinions.
It’s a fact of life, one that too few English teachers embrace. Instead, we are continually assigning canonical literature and essays in which they analyze the writing of that canonical literature. While I certainly think there is some merit in both areas, we need to start listening more to the needs of the 21st century and less to what we love: Charlotte Bronte and William Shakespeare. The reality is that 97% of our students will not go on and become English majors. They will pursue majors like business, marketing, and engineering; majors that rarely (if ever) require a literary analysis. Students will be required to read and write pieces to persuade others of their idea, aptitude, and ability.
Instead of fighting the system we need to start empowering students to effectively communicate their opinions in a way that better prepares them for their future. We need to be teaching students about how to construct a formal argument, how to read for biases and logical fallacies, and how to reach their audience for effective persuasion.
While I’m not suggesting we completely disregard the significance of teaching fiction and literary devices for non-fiction curriculum, I do think we need to reassess our priorities and find more meaningful, authentic ways to embed persuasion into our existing curriculum. This topic is wide and vast—far larger than a one week post. However, this week I’m going to provide suggestions to lay the groundwork for incorporating persuasion into our classrooms.