Here is a presentation I did on Saturday, October 17, 2015 for the Southern California Social Science Association in beautiful Burbank, California. I also provided an archive of argumentative writing resources via Pearl Trees.
Argumentative Writing Notes
This presentation focused on the work of Hillocks, Fletcher, and Heinrichs. Hillocks offers teachers a common vocabulary to use consistently with students. Fletcher uses Loop Writing and the Believing/Doubting game to get students examine both sides of an argument. I have adapted her methods for a social studies lesson. MEAL paragraphs allow teachers to give students daily practice in argument writing. Teachers who want additional ideas about teaching argumentation should consult Heinrichs’ Thank You For Arguing.
The process of working through an argument is the process of inquiry. At its very beginning is the examination of data, not the invention of a thesis statement in a vacuum.
Claims are almost never substantiated. 4 out of 5 dentists recommend… A literary critic must cite the works discussed and quote from the texts to prove a claim. A historian must carefully note the artifactual or documentary evidence basic to the argument being made.
Without analysis of any data (verbal and nonverbal texts, materials, surveys and samples), any thesis is likely to be no more than a preconception or assumption or clichéd popular belief that is unwarranted at best and, at worst, totally indefensible.
Warrants may be common sense rules that people accept as generally true, laws, scientific principles or studies, and thoughtfully argued definitions. Two claims can be made viewing the Furigay illustration: It was suicide. It was murder.
Approach the teaching of argument from the examination of data, as a first step. Once we have examined data to produce a question and have re-examined the data to try to produce an answer to the question, we may have a claim or thesis worthy of arguing. If the data support our answer to the question, it becomes evidence in support of the claim we make.
- Examine data
- Ask questions based on data
- Reexamine data
- Try to answer the questions
- Data that supports our answer = Evidence
DBQs do this in a limited way. Most students struggle when characterizing primary sources and don’t understand how to apply the evidence within them. Students need shorter, more frequent, and lower-stakes writing tasks to learn how to write arguments.
Asking students to write the thesis first is putting the cart before the horse. It’s hard to ask a question about an on-going conversation when you don’t listen to the conversation first. – Carol Jago (Fletcher forward).
Loop Writing uses five-minute timed unveilings. Each prompt ups the ante a little. Should burning the flag be protected under the First Amendment? Does the death penalty violate the Eighth Amendment? The “loop method” encourages deeper thinking about a topic as well as intellectual engagement. Purpose of Loop Writing is to examine one issue in depth to move past superficial understandings and develop a sophisticated or new perspective on the issue.
Playing The Believing & Doubting Game
- We suspend all judgment and give the writer the benefit of the doubt.
- Most students have this non-critical approach to reading their History book.
- Listening to a text (close reading – RLH) and postponing judgment requires more effort than analyzing texts. We need to temporarily try the writer’s ideas on for size.
Playing the Believing Game/Doubting Game with the Declaration of Independence might enable students to carefully look through Jefferson’s arguments about separating with England. It would also be interesting to do it with the arguments in Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense.
Points to Remember
- Academic writing begins with academic reading. Most of our students do not have enough background knowledge to write a strong argument. They need help gathering and organizing information.
- Argumentation involves asking and answering questions.
- A well-developed questioning habit is a key trait of college-ready writers.
Prompts to Deepen Student Thinking
- How do you know if something is true or only an opinion?
- How do you decide if something is better or worse than something else?
- Describe a time when you decided something was more important than something else. How did you reach that decision?
- Describe a time when you were able to see something from a different point of view. What helped you to understand a new perspective?
Playing The Doubting Game
The object of this game is disbelief. These questions prompt a mistrust of the text:
- Does the writer say anything that bothers me?
- Are any of the writer’s claims unsupported?
- Does the writer draw any dubious conclusions?
- Does the writer contradict him/herself?
- Do I disagree with any of the writer’s claims or assumptions?
- Are there any reasons not to trust this writer?
- Does the writer leave anything out?