Category Archives: Argumentative Writing

Was Eugenics Science or Racism?

Reviewing my exams at the end of my WWII unit made me realize that my students didn’t really understand why Hitler easily rose to power in Weimar Germany. They had no inkling how he used popular science to advance many of his racial theories, nor that Hitler stole most of his theories on racial purity from American scientists in the eugenics movement. These students did not understand that eugenics was the 1900s equivalent to climate change, widely accepted by the mainstream, but vilified by extremist groups.  I blame this, not on my usual frantic sprinting along the historical coverage treadmill, but on our textbook, which doesn’t even mention the word eugenics anywhere in its 793 pages. Instead of re-teaching all of WWII, I put together a quick three-day unit and argumentative writing assignment on eugenics, starting with this wonderful lecture from 15 Minute History.

The next day, my students opened class with a Do Now: (quick write) that asked: Did the eugenics movement benefit or harm society? Then, I gave a short demonstration on how to use a Vee Diagram when writing an argument. After writing their initial argument, the students participated a gallery walk where they collected at least six pieces of evidence. The idea of the gallery walk was to see if their minds changed after examining the evidence. All of the materials in the gallery walk were collected from the Eugenics Archive.

American Eugenics Movement

For their Exit Ticket, students discussed which pieces of evidence they had collected with an elbow partner and described how the evidence supported their claims. That night for homework, they were asked to fill out their chicken foot and organize their evidence, so they could write their essay in class the next day.

Chickenfoot

For their in-class essay, students were asked: Was the eugenics movement positive or negative? They were asked to include a brief background on eugenics, as well as their definition of eugenics, and instructed to write in the third person. Lastly, I asked them to use MEAL paragraphs to explain how their evidence supports their claim.  Click here for additional information on MEAL paragraphs.

M – Main Idea: Topic sentence

E – Evidence: Proof found in research

A – Analysis: Describe how the evidence proves the main idea

L – Link: Explain how the paragraph fits into what the paper is trying to argue.

The students (N=142) who completed this task, wrote an average of 292 words with 2.7 claims and 1.6 counter claims. At this point in the year, they should be writing between 300-400 words in a class period. To my horror, I discovered many examples of the Jane Schaffer method thriving in my class after a whole semester of trying to break them of the habit. I suppose I should be grateful that they had some writing instruction in middle school, but in high school and in college this type of writing doesn’t work.

Jane Schaffer Method

My next post will show students how to use the third person and help them learn how to turn bad writing into good writing.

Argumentative Writing Bonus Links

Hi MOOCers,

I have been worried that this week’s unit didn’t have enough how to and that many of you would not find it as useful as I would like. It’s amazing how when you are pondering something in your subconscious and then the universe responds and fills the vacuum. The links below were all sent to me from the Twitterverse. I hope they will fill any gaps in argumentative writing instruction.

HHTBWT Badge horizontal

I am very pleased with the amount of sharing and connecting that is happening on the discussion boards. So far only ten of you have taken the quiz, which has an average of 6.56 questions right and takes ten minutes of time. Consider this a gentle nudge to finish up the module so you can enjoy Super Bowl Sunday.  The informative writing module opens on Monday morning. Have a great weekend. — Scott

Bonus Links

ACRE (Argument, Clarity, Repetition, Evidence)

http://benthamorfoucault.blogspot.com/2014/06/how-to-write-almost-anything-argument.html

http://benthamorfoucault.blogspot.com/2014/07/how-to-write-almost-anything-part-2.html

Claims, Evidence, Reasoning

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCJacUvo778&list=PLij2XTFgmBSTKjftUzmkRmR0WxFfUpg6o

Erik Palmer video on Argumentation

http://my.hrw.com/content/hmof/language_arts/hmhcollections/resources/common/videoPlayer/index.html?shortvid=V_FLLIT_0301

Good Speaking & Listening

Eric Palmer’s quality work inspired me to give my students a speech project.

http://www.stenhouse.com/html/well-spoken.htm?r

http://www.ascd.org/Publications/Books/Overview/Teaching-the-Core-Skills-of-Listening-and-Speaking.aspx

Free webinar on Deepening & Widening the Way we teach writing in K-5.

https://vts.inxpo.com/scripts/Server.nxp?LASCmd=AI:4;F:QS!10100&ShowKey=23625&partnerref=EBLAST

Reinventing Writing chat on Twitter this Saturday morning: The nine tools that are changing writing, teaching, and learning. Mark your calendars for a great #satchatwc 1/30 at 7:30 am PST w/ guest host, Vicki Davis, aka @coolcatteacher

Making Sense of Evidence

http://historymatters.gmu.edu/browse/makesense/

MOOC Week Three

Hello Everyone, all 423 MOOC participants.

As we finish up Week Two and begin Week Three, I want to remind everyone that this is an ungraded class. The actual grades that you get on the quizzes do not count, all that matters is that you complete them and participate in all of the discussion forums in order to earn your completion certificate. Also, even though the courses are arranged into weekly modules, you do not need to complete everything during that week. All of the required elements need to be completed by February 22. Then on Monday, February 23, the last module containing the certificates will open. So if you started the course late, don’t panic, there is still plenty of time to get through everything.

Quiz Results: Many of you aren’t using the full 30 minutes to search for the reading to find the answers. That is the best way to increase your scores.

Quiz Results

No shout-outs, or brownie points this week, but I loved the discussions on the robo-graders. I thought that everyone was able to articulate his or her opinions professionally and courteously. Regardless of how passionate someone felt pro or con, there were no personal attacks and petty bickering. I guess that is the difference in teaching teachers versus teaching high school students. I am noticing a little participation fatigue between Week One and Week Two. Week One had an average of 47 participations per day and 798 page views per day. During Week Two this slipped to 29 participations per day and 522 page views per day. Both weeks have had the lowest activity on Saturdays. It’s almost like teachers think they deserve a day off.

Analytics

As we venture into argumentative writing this week, I would like to share a current assignment that my 9th & 10th grade World History students have been assigned. This is a culminating essay for our unit on the Holocaust. Students must argue which humanitarian deserves an award for saving Jewish lives during the Holocaust. It relates to the essential question for this unit, Would you risk your life to save others? What would influence your decision? I am borrowing a format I saw used by @Pomme_Ed. I’ve seen it called a Video Based Question, or Digital Based Question and it can easily be shared with students via Google Drive. I welcome your comments and feedback. Feel free to make a copy of the assignment and modify it for use with your students.

This week we have four readings, a quiz on the featured reading, three resources, three pages of videos, and three discussions. Again, I’d like to discourage you from binge viewing. I think letting yourself reflect for a day results in better discussions. Also on Twitter, we have a small, but mighty group of 20 students of 423 students. . Use #HistRW to share resources with MOOC participants. Consider following your classmates on Twitter. A lot of great ideas are shared during #sschat, #TeachWriting, #WHAPchat, and #sstlap.

  1. Tips and resources that were shared last week were:
  2. Prewriting: Why Should Students Go It Alone? http://p.ost.im/LY2mUb via @Catlin_Tucker #HistRW
  3. Special Journal Issue on #MOOC Read all about it. http://ln.is/scholarworks.umb.edu/dDQCG … #edtechchat #edchat #HistRW
  4. Historical Thinking – Teaching with Primary Sources http://ln.is/www.loc.gov/teachers/uEiNM … #HistRW
  5. Three lessons from the science of how to teach writing | Education By The Numbers: http://ln.is/educationbythenumbers.org/SgtQG … #HistRW
  6. Three lessons from data on the best ways to give feedback to students http://ln.is/p.ost.im/DSVNo  #HistRW
  7. Peer Review: 5 Tips and a Bunch of Tools to Make It Work When It Doesn’t. http://ln.is/angelastockman.com/Jkk3c … #HistRW

Please consider following your classmates on Twitter. A lot of great ideas are shared during #sschat, #TeachWriting, #WHAPchat, and #sstlap.

@nuriabrs

@grabgcab

@SecondaryEDUSF

@KHCoban

@MondaFason

@ACPGilbertson

@Dontworryteach

@maxlambmo

@egiapharas

@mrshistorylee

@KellyALew5

@arshiaunis

@gary_masters

@edmcgovern

@HTERCUMANP

@historytechie

@russelllindsey

@Asley88

@englishbeat8

SRSD Writing in History

This post is a follow up to my earlier lecture on SRSD writing instruction. Although, these lectures are meant for course participants in the MOOC Helping History Teachers Become Writing Teachers that will take place between January 12, 2015 – February 24, 2015, feel free to make comments, or join our Twitter conversations under the #HistRW.

Students writing

Purpose

Studies of history classrooms reveal that writing instruction of any kind is uncommon, even among exemplary teachers. Thus, student essays tend to list facts rather than argue claims, leave arguments unexplained, and only draw on evidence sporadically. A majority of adolescent writers struggle in writing a simple argument in history. Recently, research has focused on the discipline-specific demands of history writing. Most specifically, how students construct a complex argument from smaller arguments from historical documents that reflect how they read, understand and cite evidence from multiple sources.

Previous research suggests that students do not learn to explain quotations or other types of evidence in their papers. Students do not develop interpretations that are supported with evidence. DBQ instruction may help students improve their persuasive essays, but not their ability to write evidence-based arguments. Explicit methods and direct instruction are needed for this. These researchers developed a Self Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) intervention. This study measured the effectiveness of the intervention on students’ abilities to write evidence-based arguments using a cognitive apprenticeship model for instruction.

Thinking w hist docs

Hypotheses

H1 Students who receive instruction in analyzing sources and planning argumentative essays will demonstrate greater use of evidence from documents than students in the comparison group.

H2 Students will write more advanced claims and rebuttals, after instruction.

H3 Students will write longer and qualitatively better essays with greater factual accuracy and overall persuasiveness.

Methods

160 11th-grade students received instruction from four US history teachers at two schools. Scores on the written expression subtest of the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, administered before the study began, were compared to determine whether the two groups differed in initial writing ability. The students initially performed at the same levels. Argumentative essays that involved historical interpretation were used for the writing task in this study.

Instructional Framework

(1) develop background knowledge, (2) describe it, (3) model it, (4) support it, and (5) independent performance (Harris & Graham, 1996).

The mnemonic STOP reminded students to consider and generate ideas on both sides of an argument before deciding which side to support in their essay. The steps of the mnemonic prompted them to Suspend judgment, Take a side, Organize (select and number) ideas, and Plan more as you write. Teachers modeled self-regulatory statements such as, ‘‘Since I decided to put my thesis statement first, I will write it as the beginning of my introductory paragraph.”

Student essays were coded to identify all claims in favor of or against the position. The study counted the total number of claims, but controlled for the length of essay. The researchers counted and analyzed the number of rebuttals that students wrote, then explored their level of development by ranking rebuttals according to degree of sophistication.

Doc Use Means

Results

In comparison to a control group (N = 79), essays written by students who received SRSD instruction (N = 81) were longer, were rated as having greater historical accuracy, were more persuasive, with detailed claims and rebuttals. This study suggests that with explicit instruction, teachers can shape new understandings for what students expect to write and how they perform in history classrooms. Thus, numerous writing from sources assignments, paired with direct instruction in historical thinking processes, appears to move low to average high school writers to demonstrably higher levels of writing proficiency.

The big takeaway is that History instructors now have a framework for how to compare measures of quality in student essays across grade levels. Effective writing instructors will concentrate on one or two elements per assignment, give students regular feedback, and report their growth.

Source

Reading and writing from multiple source documents in history: Effects of strategy instruction with low to average high school writers (2010). By Susan De La Paz, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of Maryland, College Park 
& Mark Felton, Associate Professor, San Jose State University.

College and Career Ready Writing

What does it mean CCR

Educators are familiar with the phrase “college and career ready” but few are able to articulate what determines this readiness. This is because there has been little empirical analysis on the literary skills required in community colleges. Being college and career ready means students are able to communicate clearly—to speak grammatically, write well and read the required materials with understanding. A May 2013 study from the National Center on Education and the Economy asked what kind and level of literacy is required of a high school graduate for success in the first year of a community college program? They collected data from seven community colleges in seven states, serving rural, urban and suburban populations with enrollments from 3,000 to 30,000.

Reading

The reading and writing required of students in community colleges is not very complex or cognitively demanding. The reading complexity of college texts is between 11th and 12th grade. Successful readers of information-rich texts should have the ability to read complex texts in unsupported environments. The capacity to process, retain and synthesize large amounts of new information must be increased. Significant reading experiences must occur in a wider range of content areas. The skills in comprehending statistical tables, charts, maps, lists and other documents in college texts need to be improved.

CC Reading Levels_NCEE

Reading for in-depth subject matter comprehension is not formally taught in our high schools. This disconnect between high school and college reading demands suggests a need to reexamine what is taught in high school. What are we asking our students to do with what they read? College students are rarely asked to do complex analyses of texts, except in English Comp classes. One third (33%) of the courses examined used multiple choice or true/false exams and assignments exclusively.

Writing

Most introductory college classes demand very little writing; when it is required, instructors have very low expectations. Community College writing typically takes the form of informational writing or collecting evidence for a course of action. Complex writing plays a minor role in community college student exams. Even so, a large number of high school graduates cannot meet the low expectations that community colleges have of them.

Panel Ratings_NCEE

Community College instructors do not expect their students to read at the level of their texts or to write much. The majority of essays were argument or informational, only one college contributed narrative essays. Agreement between scores was significant at the lower end of the grading scale with notable disagreement at the mid-range of the scale One-fifth (20%) of essays that the panel considered college ready were scored not college ready by the instructors. Almost half (48%) of essays considered college ready by the instructors were given scores of 2 or below by the panel.

Over 75% of the essays given a B by the instructors were marked 2 or below by the panel. Argument essays often received Bs without including well-supported claims. No pattern emerged to suggest why the panelists graded the writing aspect of the subject matter essays more harshly than instructors.

Dist_Grades_Essays_NCEE

Community College students are required to learn college writing in English Comp and then rarely asked to write again. When they are asked to write outside of English class, the acceptable standard is considerably lower. Many of the deficits of HS school ELA instruction are being replicated rather than remedied in community colleges. Students clearly need better instruction in constructing arguments and in laying out their thinking logically and persuasively.

Big Takeaways

We need high schools and community colleges to concurrently raise their standards for reading and writing. This doesn’t just happen in high school, but needs to be a collaborative effort when implementing Common Core State Standards throughout the PK-12 curriculum.

Reading

Students must have the ability to read information-rich texts in unsupported environments. Teachers must increase the capacity of students to process, retain and synthesize large amounts of new information. Students must have significant reading experience in a wider range of content areas. Teachers must increase the ability of students in reading and understanding tables, charts, maps, and lists that supplement the prose in many college texts.

Writing

We are not teaching our high school and community college students to be proficient writers. The limited writing skills that we do teach, we do so ineffectively. Many high school graduates cannot meet the literacy demands of community college programs. Complex writing tasks need to play a larger role in both high school and community college student exams. History teachers may increase their writing instruction skills by signing up for this free online class.

Reference

Tucker, M. (2013). What does it really mean to be college and work ready? The English literacy required of first year community college students. The National Center on Education and the Economy. May 2013. Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://www.ncee.org/college-and-work-ready/

Providing Effective Feedback

This post will be devoted to reporting the results of my students’ participation in the Bill of Rights Institute’s We The Students Scholarship contest. I focus on providing feedback on the general trends I see in student writing, as opposed to detailed feedback on individual essays. On this assignment, I saw problems in addressing all aspects of the prompt, providing sufficient background on the Declaration, connecting current events to the ideals in the Declaration, and coming up with interesting titles.

After several days of pre-writing activities, 87% of my students turned in first drafts that averaged 229 words in length. These results were 54 words less than the previous assignment, however, the cognitive and organizational skills needed to address this prompt were much more demanding than previous essays. In my previous writing tasks, I gave students a choice between three different writing prompts (argumentative, explanatory, and narrative) I found that students who chose the narrative prompt wrote significantly more than students writing to argumentative or explanatory prompts. The table below displays the word production range from this prompt.

We The Students

Addressing the prompt

In order to fully address the prompt (Since you were born, has America moved closer to or further away from the ideals outlined in the Declaration of Independence?) students needed to separate their answer into three parts (1) explaining the background of and the ideals in the Declaration of Independence; (2) describing their political beliefs; and (3) interpreting events that happened in their lifetime to argue whether the US has moved closer or further from the ideals of the Declaration.

Address Prompt

This student attempts to rephrase the prompt in their own words, which is essential, however, they miss the point of the essay, “Is the United States moving closer to or further from the ideals in the Declaration?”  Instead, this student focuses on his/her political beliefs and does not take a stand that answers the question. The second sentence goes further off track and talks about unfairness in our community instead of our country. Many students have not fully addressed the prompt in their first draft. Failure to do this in the first paragraph or two of their final essay will guarantee elimination from the competition. This correlates with students lacking practice in developing complex thesis statements for written assignments. Teachers can help by asking students to provide three supporting statements for everything. Once students are trained to understand there is more than one correct answer, they will write more thoughtful and layered essays.

Providing background on the Declaration

In order to win this contest, students need to demonstrate not only that they understand why the Declaration was written, but how and when it was written. Here, contest judges look for specifics like: it was written by Thomas Jefferson, fifty-six men signed it, and all of this work was done in Philadelphia. Advanced students might mention that the complaints or grievances in the Declaration have become standards or ideals by which democratic governments are judged. As demonstrated in the writing sample below,

Background Knowledge

many students did not provide sufficient background or history on the Declaration. This student makes a poor word choice with “adopted” instead of “approved” or “ratified” in their first sentence, which may make a judge question whether or not the student has sufficient background knowledge on the Declaration.

Connecting ideals to contemporary issues

Another common mistake was failing to connect an event from the student’s lifetime to the ideals in the Declaration. Students were able to come up with events or issues, but struggled in making a direct link to an ideal in the Declaration.

Connecting Ideals

This student communicates a great deal of knowledge on gun control issues, but fails to connect this issue to a grievance or ideal in the Declaration. Gun control issues could be interpreted as “waging war against us,” “has torn up our towns and killed our people,” or “caused fighting to break out among us.” Making an explicit link and explaining how current issues connect to the ideals in the Declaration will be key to getting an essay into the competition’s final rounds.

Provocative titles

Lastly, students are still failing to create a high quality title that would make a reader want to pick up their essay.The judges for this contest will be reading through hundreds of essays that will essentially make the same basic arguments. One way to make your essay stand out is to give it a funny, clever, interesting, or provocative title. The most popular titles from this project are listed below.

Best Title

The next steps in this project are to take the students through a peer review process and teach them how to use revision memos to plan their second drafts.  To guide them through this, I asked them to consider five recommendations:

  1. Provide background on the Declaration.
  2. Define five ideals in the Declaration.
  3. Interpret three events from your lifetime that argue we are moving closer or further from Declaration.
  4. Explain how these events relate to your personal political beliefs.
  5. Consider what would be needed for the US to realize the ideals of the Declaration.

Engaging All Students

Authentic Writing Tasks continued.

The next step in my We the Students essay contest assignment was to increase my students’ awareness of contemporary problems in the US and their links to the ideals in the Declaration of Independence. I divided the students into groups and gave each group a short article or reading about an issue. They had a day with laptops to research topics on their own, but there were many technical problems and that time was not used wisely.  Groups found short articles on:  (1) Ferguson or other militarized police actions; (2) Marriage equality; (3) Marijuana legalization/decriminalization; (4) Edward Snowden and government surveillance of electronics; (5) Immigration laws; (6) Death penalty; (7) Restrictions on voter IDs; and (8) Obamacare requirements that everyone purchase health insurance. Presenting the Dec

After that, we had class discussions where students argued whether current government actions were in or out of line with the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. A chart was put up on Google Drive, so that students could do more research at home. The purpose of the chart was to help students connect the issue back to the exact wording in the Declaration. After each issue was summarized, students asked a few questions. Extensive modeling was done in showing how issues were tied back to the Declaration.

Students created a T-chart depicting which ideals we were moving closer to and which we were moving further from. Students struggled with this higher level thinking activity. They were required to take notes on each topic, so they all had multiple issues that could be related back to ideals of Declaration.

Declaration House

 

Next, they had a day to research events that had happened in the US during their lifetime. I was surprised how many students selected events were totally irrelevant and did not happen in the US. I don’t think these students are used to a teacher who reads things and they probably think that as long as they write something down, they will get credit. Boy, are they in the wrong class! I asked them to collect 7-10 events from their life time and relate them to the ideals/grievances. Then they had to pick 3-5 events and explain whether they suggested we were moving toward, or away from the Declaration.

Lastly, students took a political typology quiz to determine where their views on social issues put them on the political spectrum. After finishing these prewriting activities, the students were ready to attack the prompt and write a draft as an in-class timed essay. When I charted all of the first drafts, we would move on to a peer review activity and then the revision process.  More on the results soon.

Authentic Writing Tasks

As a 9th and 10th grade World History teacher, sometimes I struggle with making history relevant to my students.  This year, thanks to the Bill of Rights Institute’s We the Students Scholarship Contest, I didn’t have to, the $5,000 top prize was more than enough to motivate my students. They were eager to struggle with questions like: What are the ideals in the Declaration of Independence? What are the ideals of America? What are some of your personal ideals? The vast majority of my students wrote two hand-written drafts before typing three pages double-spaced to meet the early bird deadline of November 15.

BOR Inst

The essay prompt: In 800 words or fewer, please answer the following question: “Since you were born, has America moved closer to or further away from the ideals outlined in the Declaration of Independence.”

Dr. Strojny helped me brainstorm some prewriting tasks that would make this assignment easier for students. First, what are the ideals outlined in the Declaration of Independence? For this class activity students were split into 13 groups of three or four where they had to close read the Declaration and translate what it actually said. Each group then brought their “translation” up to the document camera, projected it to the class and explained it. Then we compared them to a simplified list of grievances. The students copied the 22 grievances into their binders before leaving class.

For homework, I asked the students do a 15 minute quick write about which ideals, or grievances they thought would be most important, or easy to relate to issues today.  We had a quick discussion that went like this:  Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness – they have all heard about this —but don’t  know what it means? Examples to think about: Right to Life: Death penalty, abortion rights/right to life, food assistance for poor families, access to healthcare aka Obamacare.

Liberty:  Civil rights, such as right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure, freedom of movement and freedom from government surveillance (think about Edward Snowden, the internet), incarceration rates and three-strikes laws for non-violent offenders such as drug users, freedom to vote and new voter ID laws.

Right to Happiness: What does it mean to be happy? Access to employment, secure jobs, student loans, drug laws, expansion of marriage laws to same-sex couples.

Writing the Dec

That government derives its powers from the just consent of the governed: Do our voter turnout numbers suggest that we consent to being governed by today’s leaders? What about Scotland’s recent referendum? What would happen if people in the U.S. wanted to secede, like the anti-Obama secession petitions in Texas?

Do students understand that the framers were morally compelled to violent revolution because all men have the moral duty—the OBLIGATION– to rebel against governments that do not fulfill these natural laws—the Occupy movement, School Walkouts in CO, acts of civil disobedience.  Do we have a moral duty to rebel against bad laws? What does it mean when we don’t vote? When we don’t attend protests? Etc. Do young people today feel this obligation?

It was an exhilarating assignment. Could I keep the excitement going through numerous drafts?  More in my next post.

Evaluating Intro Paragraphs

This post is the third in a series on how to assign student writing and provide feedback without infringing on instructional time. In my flipped classroom, I am able to put content lectures online and spend class time conferencing with my students on improving their writing. These samples are introductory paragraphs to informative and explanatory and historical narrative prompts I assigned students on the ancient Greek philosophers.

PROMPT #2:

Write an informative/explanatory essay about the lives of the big three Ancient Greek philosophers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Include biographical facts as well as the contributions each philosopher made to Western political thought.

SAMPLE A

Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were three great philosophers. All three of them were connected in some sort of way. There lives were very different in many ways.

SAMPLE B

The three subjects I will talk about are Aristotle, Plato’s and Socartes. They are all greek philosophers. Aristotles, plato’s and Socartes are all very similar. They all play a part of the economic structure and culture like laws and citizenship.

SAMPLE C

One of these famous philosophers name was Socretes. He was a stone mason and philosopher. All the things we know about him comes from Plato. Plato was Socrates’s famous student. Socretes was also known for asking questions around Athens. But, the people of Athens got fed up and put him on trial when he was 70 years old. 280 people voted Socrates guilty and sentenced him to death. Socrates thought they should be paying him. But, unfortunately he died by drinking poison.

PROMPT #3:

Write a historical narrative retelling the Suicide of Socrates from one character’s point of view (Socrates, Apollodorus, or Crito). Tell the story of why Socrates was put on trial, what happened at the trial, and what happened at the end of the trial.

SAMPLE A

When Socrates was 70 years old, he was put on trial. He was accused of corrupting the city’s youth and failing to respect the gods. In the jury there was 501 citizens. The jurors condemned him to death.

SAMPLE B

I am Socrates, I was an Athenian stonemason and philosopher. Most of what people know about me comes from my most famous student Plato. I didn’t write any books instead. I went to the marketplace and questioned citizens about their beliefs. I often ask the question “What is the greatest good?” To me this exam of questions was a way to help others seek truth and self knowledge, but to Athenians such questions threatened accepted traditions.

SAMPLE C

The year was 399, I had to stand in front of 500 of my fellow Athenians. I was trialed for supposedly “corrupting the youth.” How outrages! All I did was spread my thoughts and teachings! Anyways, I knew, if I were to be guilty, I might be given the death penalty. The trial took place in the heart of Athens. Many people knew who I was. I am 70 years old. I had many anti-democratic points of view, that might have brought me here.

As I conference with each student, I will employ rubrics from the Literacy Design Collaborative that evaluate argumentative, informative, and narrative writing. Students will assess themselves first, before I comment on their work. Adhering to Mike Schmoker’s advice from Write More, Grade Less – I will only provide feedback on improving introductory paragraphs and will ask them to revise and complete this assignment.

Evaluating Student Writing

Following up on my earlier post on Historical Writing Prompts, this article will describe the results of a formative assessment on the Ancient Greek Philosophers for a 9th/10th grade World History class. This population of students was able to choose which type of writing task they wanted to complete (argument, informative, or narrative). They wrote a total of 183 essays that ranged between 18 and 640 words, with an average of 255 words per essay. From the results, it is clear these students needed additional instruction on (1) titling their essays to indicate which prompt they had selected, (2) specific instruction on rephrasing the prompt in their first two sentences, and (3) assistance in writing an introductory paragraph that organizes their thoughts and contains a thesis statement.

In this post, I will provide three samples from the argumentative writing prompt and ask students to vote for the strongest piece of student writing. Student work is typed verbatim; typos, misspellings, grammatical errors, and factual mistakes are intentionally included.

PROMPT #1:

Argue that Plato and Aristotle held an essentially positive (or negative) view of human nature. In a well-reasoned essay, support your position using at least three of the quotes below as evidence to support your position.

SAMPLE A

Aristotle and Plato have made many quotes and many historians and people argue for the meaning of these quotes. In this paper I will discuss these quotes and put in my opinion. There will be showing if they are positive or negative.

SAMPLE B

The 3 quotes I will be talking about were from 2 famous philosophers, Aristotle and Plato. I will be showing you how powerful these quotes are and what they mean to me. I will be deciding if each quote represents a positive or negative view of human nature. These quotes would never mean the same thing to other people because of their opinions, and how they see on there own perspective. The first quote will be on Aristotle.

SAMPLE C

The meaning of “A good and wise life is the wealth that brings happiness” To me a good and wise life is having money and having your dream job. Also having a wonderful family. And having to see them everyday and having no worries. And no crime in the world.