Slice of Life March Challenge: March 27th., 2014 – Of argument protocols, new class rules, and (lots) of “student engagement”

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The March Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by Two Writing Teachers .  

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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?!

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18 thoughts on “Slice of Life March Challenge: March 27th., 2014 – Of argument protocols, new class rules, and (lots) of “student engagement”

  1. This is great! You have found an issue that is basically harmless to let the students argue over. I think we shy away from this because there are so many issues today that test a belief system. I love how you can take an idea and shape it to be your own.

  2. Brilliant Tara. The best teaching lessons always come from the kids don’t they? I think it’s wonderful that you have the flexibility to ‘roll with it’. I can imagine the perfect girls smug faces thinking “Ha, we have this in the bag, our teacher all to ourselves twice a week, peace and quiet.” I am looking forward to hearing the result of the debate. You must have done such a lot of good teaching all through your year. Good on you.

  3. Such good timing (for me), Tara. This week I was working with some middle school teachers and we drifted to talk of persuasion and argument. We set this as the topic of our next meeting so I look forward to sharing your story and the website you’ve recommended. Thanks!

  4. Can you ask for a better situation? It is relevant and they all have passion for the topic since they have a stake in the results. Do you suppose they know you are achieving curriculum goals through this? You are a master teacher!

  5. Authentic situations are the best for teaching and practicing. The learning sticks better because the students see it’s useful. In your case this became an authentic assessment. I am glad that the students used what they had learned earlier.

  6. Can’t wait to see what happens! Is there also someone to bring up why “all” the boys are left out? I just wonder if they are all noisy, or if the noisy ones drown out & have power over the quiet ones? Good to take the argument to the class. Clearly that study hall is something liked, but too much noise is a disturbance. Is this like a recess/free time, & you don’t go out? Sometimes I wish we could just sit down & talk. Best wishes in the debate, & thanks for the link. I didn’t know they shared resources.

    • The flash drafts have produced so many great insights, Linda. I learned so much about the way my kids think about rules, their place in society, power, and assertiveness. My kids have the same lunch time as I do, the grade is divided into two shifts – one goes to “study hall” in assigned rooms, one eats, and then they change places. I opened up our room (going against union rules) since I’m there any way and they love the room. It’s been wonderful, but the boys are noisy. What started as a one time annoyance and action mushroomed into something bigger – this links to that “perfect” post I wrote about. We are sharing the strongest arguments tomorrow (my post for tomorrow) and debating both sides. Yes, I wish we lived close enough to just sit down and talk – that would be grand, wouldn’t it?!

  7. Tara, you are a master at taking the small moments and turning them into lessons that mirror real life! P.S. There are students in my room almost every lunch period:)

  8. Great post! I so enjoyed reading this post and love how you are embedding real life situations into your students’ learning journeys. I am looking forward to hearing who “wins” this debate! Are you going to participate? With my grade 5’s, I like to write opinion T-charts – a statement and then a column for “Agree” and another for “Disagree”. The students come into the class, read the statement and sign their name on the chart on one side or the other, depending on their opinion. I try to use statements that are relevant to them: “We should have school uniforms at our school.”, “Cell phones should be allowed in class”, “Animals should not be kept in zoos”. During the week, I they will do a “quick write”opinion pieces based on the statement. These can be used for debates or for expanding into longer pieces.

  9. What better way to teach arguments than with something your kids are passionate about! I wish I’d had a sixth grade teacher who allowed us to fight for our own rights like this… you’re giving your students a voice, something that will be very important to them as they grow older.

  10. You had me with the comic, Tara! I’ve been trying to get all of our teachers, even the primary ones to weave argument into their days and to teach the argument protocol. Once they see the lesson, and they use the protocol, they love it. It’s hard for them to believe how it works for setting up essay writing as well. I hope that you blog about the upcoming debate and share some of arguments!

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