As the glow dimmed from the antique lantern below my overpriced college degrees, student papers were plentiful enough to wallpaper my home office. The crimson pen stood still as repetitiveness continued with every manuscript and boredom surpassed as the words on the paper were no longer making sense. Something in the students’ work had gone astray – the voice and passion of the message.
Students have turned into a dull clay model which had been sculpted and redefined year by year since kindergarten. Following a writing equation (introduction + body + conclusion = essay) has led them to a blank canvass which they cannot seem to defile without a formula and a rubric. Similar to a dog being chased by a chiwawa, students do not fear the size of the task, but the letter (grade) which comes at its conclusion.
Educators are at a time in history when they are being asked to teach for jobs which don’t exist (yet), and sculpt minds that are easily adaptable to another situation the next day. Students cannot be static as the clay being placed in the oven. Its vital people transfer those skills into other areas, but it cannot happen unless teachers continue the same practice.
Culture of Arguing
Young people are lacing up their boots and arguing with parents for good reasons. Whether it is to write a letter to Mom and Dad on why they should be allowed to go to a friend’s house or verbally presenting how responsible they are to operate an automobile, argumentative writing and speaking have become a college and career ready skill highly touted in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Arguing has become more of an art than discouraging act students should stray away from in life.
Using government as an example, statutes and court opinions are being disseminated from the U.S. Supreme Court on an annual basis as society continues to change. The leaders of our nation are constantly referring back to primary documents (i.e. previous court documents, landmark cases, past and present legislation) and giving an opinion on how the law is going to be interpreted. Often students will take primary documents and lower court opinions and create their own claim regarding the subject prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s official ruling. Using the textual evidence encompassed in the primary documents, students create an evidence based claim which they will argue; these claims are often for or against a particular topic.
Another instance which provides students with an opportunity for an authentic task is by analyzing Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and President Barack Obama’s 2008 Inaugural Address. A focus on the author’s purpose and word choice exposes even greater literature devices. Interpreting King and Obama’s speech allows each individual to realize the author’s intent of persuading his audiences. However, it’s up to the student writer to share his or her interpretive claim and support it with textual evidence.
Complex text often calls for collaborative conversations with students peeling back the hidden messages (or layers) revealed by the author. Within the messages, there are often three rhetorical devices used to persuade an audience: ethos (reliability or trustworthiness of the source), pathos (emotional appeal), and logos (statistical or logical appeal).
Not only are teachers being charged with teaching students how to write, but why they must write.
Argument and Persuasive writing vary
Argument writing is not meant be confused with persuasive writing which wants a reader to agree with the author’s viewpoint. Persuasive writing often is writing in “ethos,” or appealing to a reader’s emotional side (i.e. character, credential, or trustworthiness). Argument writing wants the reader to fully understand the opposing view and agree it makes logical sense, but may not personally agree with it.
For instance working with middle school students, an argument piece may claim School uniforms are a necessity in maintaining a safe school climate. The facts and other studies indicate uniforms in schools may reduce office referrals or suspensions. However, a middle school student passionately against school uniforms does not have to be persuaded to want them. Instead, the purpose of the writing is to allow the same middle school student to understand that it is a logical argument for a school to implement school uniforms based on the evidence used in the writing.