As I have mentioned, I am in a week long workshop that is guiding me in the development of a unit of study on Common Core Writing Standard 1, which in many respects the Core Standards has deemed one of the most, if not the most important standard in the reform. Case in point –
“While all three text types are important, the Standards put particular emphasis on students’ ability to write sound arguments on substantive topics and issues, as this ability is critical to college and career readiness. English and education professor Gerald Graff (2003) writes that “argument literacy” is fundamental to being educated. The university is largely an “argument culture,” Graff contends; therefore, K–12 schools should “teach the conflicts” so that students are adept at understanding and engaging in argument (both oral and written) when they enter college. He claims that because argument is not standard in most school curricula, only 20 percent of those who enter college are prepared in this respect.” – Common Core State Standards For English Language Arts& Literacy in History/social studies, science, and technical subjects: appendix a: research supporting Key elements of the standards, page 24
The standard, as it reads, pushes students through increasing levels of complexity in creating an argument supported by evidence to support their position on a given topic. A skill, that is undoubtly necessary not just for College and Career Readiness but life in general. The reality is we all have opinions and at one time or another have been forced to defend our position.
Think about it, at some point in your life you have had to defend your beliefs. Whether it be on an age old argument like the death penalty, abortion, or gay rights or something current like the Casey Anthony verdict we take a side and we defend it.
Now I appreciate that these are often difficult topics that require domain knowledge and a broad spectrum of facts, but the reality is arguing is a pretty basic skill we all participate in, even young children.
How many times have you heard a child argue with their parents why they need ice cream or the newest pair of Nike’s? Even though this is more of a basic debate, the child usually has a pretty solid case for their reasoning. Ice cream is for many people a necessity!
As an educator, the idea of framing a question to create the argument sounds easy right? Sure, I thought so, but the reality is, I am heading into my second day of guidance and I am still wavering on what the foundation of the argument should be for my unit of study. I still don’t have a unit question I am happy with…
The unit I am developing is taking an in-depth look at the American revolutionary war in both English Language Arts and Social Studies. My original thoughts going in to the unit were simple – the students would have to pick a side (either the loyalists or patriots) and defend why their side is right. But what does the Unit Question for such an activity look like? What does the unit assessments look like? What do I want them to get out of this unit that they can take with them to the next unit? What do I want them to learn that will stay with them for the rest of their life?
These questions have led me down an interesting path that has led me to revise my not only my unit question but my essential question as well because I have discovered it is not that easy to just create an argument and take students down a path of self discovery and learning.
There is little question that the assessment of this unit will be project based in nature. I am a project based teacher and coach and push all my teachers to find the project to drive the instruction but the depth in which the projects have been don’t hail in comparison to what is expected with the Common Core.
A good visual representation of a unit assessment that is argument based and aligned with the Common Core can be seen in this video:
This video can also been seen on the Buck Institute for Education which has a bank of videos that support project based learning and the argument.
Moving forward, I will make sure I post the foundations of my unit and the unit as it becomes developed. By then, I will have a better idea what my argument is going to be – I have no choice. I have to come down to developing a question that will guide my students down a path that will help them begin to learn the foundations of argument. In turn, I can only hope they can transfer those skills so when the newest pair of Nike’s hit the shelves they will have a bank of tools to convince their parents to buy them, or have a great job to be able to afford as many pairs as they want!