The March Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by Two Writing Teachers .
Ever since I attended Mary Ehrenworth’s sessions on argument writing during last summer’s Writing Institute, I knew that argument protocols would shape my persuasive unit of study, and that these would begin early in the year. There are some wonderful resources on the TCRWP website that outline some of the thinking and procedures involved in teaching this way, and these make the process accessible to all of us who are wrestling with ways in which to weave “argument talk” into our curriculums in a meaningful, natural way. Mary’s point was that our kids need to rehearse the structure and logical flow of argument talk on a continuing basis – it’s not something we trot out just in testing season, and present as a series of mini lessons wedded to the persuasive prompt, the five paragraph format the test demands. Mary encouraged us to find opportunities throughout the year that could be framed in terms of the argument protocol: here’s the issue…take a stance, form your reasoning….and, let’s go!
Teaching sixth grade, I have found issues at every turn – sixth graders LOVE to argue – and we’ve been rehearsing argument talk ever since September. Today, we were presented with an explosive issue to frame an argument around, and what fun we had!
Our story really began on Monday, at our lunch time study hall. The boys generally collect on the reading rug and play Scrabble, cards, or Apples to Apples, and the girls (many of them my “perfect girls” ) group around the desks, playing games sometimes, but mostly doing homework. The noise level from the boys’ section has become an issue, and on Monday I’d had enough. After a series of warnings went unheeded, I let the boys know that they could not come to lunch time study the next day – only the girls would be able to. Well….that was not well received in all quarters – the girls were jubilant, the boys? not so much.
Tuesday study lunch was delightful. The girls sat where they wished, played the games they wanted to, and were simply joyous. I was able to eat my lunch in peace.
This morning, I shared this blissful experience with my kids, and wondered aloud: perhaps we should have girls-only study lunch twice a week. There was a hush. Then a cheer from the girls. And utter (and loud) dismay from the boys. In the midst of all that chaos, I experienced a quiet moment of teacher brainwave: here was the perfect issue for a round of argument talk!
So, I framed the issue and asked my kids to take sides and begin to caucus. It was wonderful! Amidst the passionate (and loud) debates that flowed among the two sides (boys vs. girls), I heard all the good work we’ve been practicing all year – my kids were making well thought out and well phrased arguments. They were on a roll. Both teams jotted down notes, and got their game plans ready. Tomorrow we will write our flash drafts, and then we will open a formal debate.
Will the motion to pass a new class rule: there will be a girls only lunchtime study hall twice a week, pass or not?
We’ll see. Meanwhile, we’ve got plenty of wonderful argument talk, plus kids writing up a class Constitution (yes, we learned all about the nation’s Constitution way back in September, so these kids know how to frame one of these, too!), and lots of posters declaring the injustice/justice of this “new rule”now adorn our walls and doors.
Who knew that teaching argument could be so much fun?!