Sunday, January 15, 2017

(re) designing argumentation writing units for grades 5-12

Last week Ashli from Solution Tree emailed asking if I'd like a copy of a new book that was just released: (re)Designing Argumentation Writing Units for Grades 5-12. Now, there are many things I do well and know about writing and teaching writing, but argument is not one of them, so for my own selfish reasons, I replied with an enthusiastic "Yes!" right away!

Yesterday I took at look at the first two chapters and I love it so far. It's already been super helpful in building my understanding of argument writing - both writing it and teaching kids how to write it.

The first chapter begins by just explaining all the key ideas a teacher would need to know about argument. First, there's discussion about how argument is a subset of persuasion, and explains what makes it persuasive writing and also what is different about argument. Then it launches into the characteristics of argument, explaining each in detail: claims, audience, style, reasons, evidence, elaboration, counterarguments, and citations. It ends with structuring an argument paper, and I found something I was especially thankful for in this part.

Many times, writing teachers give students, for lack of a better word, formula, for writing. Like it has to be five paragraphs or it has to have so many words. While this can be helpful for less experienced writers, it can be problematic for advanced writers who have been a part of a Writing Workshop for a few years. For my first 10 years as a teacher, I didn't write. Once I started blogging, it opened up so much more insight for me as a writing teacher, and I'm glad to see that reflected in the content of this book. I wanted to share a quote I found particularly insightful:
"The simplistic structure is comfortable and well intentioned, given the demands to help ensure students perform well on standardized tests. However, subjecting advanced writers to a lockstep structure whereby they are mandated to use a formulaic approach may do them a disservice in which they focus too much on form rather than content. An overly restrictive structure that largely relies on prescriptive phrases and paragraphs can make all papers appear too similar and discourage any student from deviating from the set frame.This mandate can limit their creativity and sophistication as writers, squashing a potential gem of a piece."
Personally speaking, prior to blogging, I did this exact thing as a writing teacher - I dictated which paragraphs included which kinds of information, rather than giving students some freedom. The five paragraph essay is a perfect example - I taught students how to write them but it was so structured the kids never had any chance for creative freedom at all. Then just a few years ago, after I had been blogging awhile, I heard someone say, "Parts, not paragraphs," meaning that students should have an introduction, three parts (and each part may have had one or more paragraphs), and then a conclusion. This kind of knowledge about writing is so important for teachers - writing is a space to create, and when we limit our kids' work to a super-specific set of parameters, they aren't fun to read, they do seem formulaic, and they probably aren't fun for the kids to write, either. We need to find ways to give students some freedom so they can engage their creativity, but at the same time, have students understand the parts of an argument paper, and make sure to include each of those.

Chapter one of this book was fantastic, and in chapter 2, the author launches into how to plan a unit with a Backwards Design framework. She shows an example of how to break standards down by what students should Know, Understand, and be able to Do (KUDs). There's a detailed example of standards breakdown for an 8th grade argument paper that really illuminates how to think through the standards; after all, the more clarity you have about the standards, the more clarity you'll have when delivering instruction to students.

I'm only two chapters in but highly recommend this book. With all the knowledge Kathy Tuchman Glass has about the genre of Argumentation, it's a great tool to have at your side when it comes time to teach your argument unit.

What other fabulous argument resources do you all keep in your back pocket? Leave a comment below and let's keep the conversation going!

Happy Sunday!


  1. Michelle,
    Thank you so much for such a glowing review of my book! It was arduous to complete, even though I enjoyed doing it, so your careful consideration and remarks to share my work is greatly appreciated. While writing, I tried to harness the mindset of a teacher and harken back to when I taught, so I aimed to make it teacher friendly. I'm so glad you felt that! I'm currently writing the narrative version to continue the "(Red)designing" series.
    All the best,
    Kathy T. Glass

  2. I saw this book and can say it is really nice. Thank you for reminding! By the way, do you know some good essay writing services ? You know, now I need help in writing my work.


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