“Argument Writing” Enhances College and Career Readiness
In a 21st century world, the ability to analyze, filter and judge the mountain of information that comes into our workplaces and homes every day depends heavily on critical thought. Critical analysis develops the capacity to distinguish fact from fiction and is prominent in the new Common Core Standards. Instead of relying on memorization and covering broad areas of knowledge, Common Core Standards ask students to dig deeper into material and to explore topics in depth.
Local school districts are adjusting their curricula to reflect the new standards, and teachers are learning to innovate and dig deeper to meet those challenges. Such was the work of a group of St. Louis area teachers convened over the past two years through the Gateway Writing Project (GWP), a National Writing Project site based in the UMSL College of Education.
The ability to write logical arguments based on substantive claims, sound reasoning, and relevant evidence is a cornerstone of the Common Core State literacy standards, with opinion writing—a basic form of argument—extending down into the earliest grades. Although the standards stress research—both short, focused projects (such as those commonly required in the workplace) and longer term in depth research (which is necessary for college papers) —it is most prominently emphasized in the writing strand. Good argument writing develops the skills to research and analyze topics across the curriculum.
GWP Workshops for Argument Writing
Beginning in 2011, a top-notch band of GWP-trained classroom teachers agreed to examine the implications of the Common Core writing standards, both by reading high-quality sources and then using new strategies to teach argument writing to their own students. They met over the school year to dig deep into their reading and then reflected on ways they could develop effective ways to teach argument writing.
Together they learned more about asking their students to explore complex questions that did not have a prescribed answer and designed inductive activities that gave students opportunities to experience the power of personal discovery. As teachers shared an array of interesting and timely topics, they came to the conclusion that “arguments are everywhere” and observed that their students became better critical thinkers and better writers, no matter the writing task or the testing method.
Their work resulted in a series of well-received argument writing workshops in 2012 and 2013 for 90 secondary teachers from virtually all content areas. Workshop included topics such as: the essential difference between writing a persuasive piece and writing an argument; explanations and discussion of the critical elements of argument writing; different types of and purposes for argument writing; and, demonstrations of actual lessons teachers could take back to their classrooms.
The next Teaching Argument Writing in Grades 6-12 workshop is scheduled for June 19-20 on the UMSL campus. A follow-up session will take place in early fall so that participants can come back with questions and share successes. Registration will begin by March 18. Those interested in the workshop should contact Diane Scollay at email@example.com.
How Teachers Can Participate
The Gateway Writing Project offers teachers seeking a professional home a place to stay. Not all teachers want to present workshops or teach courses, but they do want the collegial relationships that come from studying, planning, and writing together. GWP values equally those teachers who want to focus exclusively on their own classrooms. Inevitably they become the respected teachers in their building who quietly influence others and help build a strong community of learners. As one GWP participant said, “Whenever I’m feeling lost or concerned about my practice, I can go back ‘home’ and be reinvigorated by everything GWP has to offer.”
Many teachers begin their GWP affiliation by attending our Invitational Summer Institute. Applications for the June 9-July 10 institute are currently being accepted. Additional information about the summer institute or about an 18-hour Graduate Certificate in the Teaching of Writing are available by contacting GWP director Dr. Nancy Singer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GWP is an established professional development provider in schools and districts throughout the St. Louis area. GWP directors and consultants work with school leaders to develop programs that fit local needs. Administrators and teachers can contact GWP associate director Diane Scollay email@example.com regarding school/district–based professional development programming.
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